Exploration Variables Identified by NOAA Ocean Exploration

Download the Exploration Variables Identified by NOAA Ocean Exploration report (pdf, 2.53 MB).

Through its exploration activities and unique capabilities, NOAA Ocean Exploration reduces unknowns and scientific gaps in deep-ocean areas (greater than 200 meters/656 feet water depth) and provides high-value environmental intelligence required by NOAA and the nation to address current and emerging science and management needs.

To better understand the extent to which we are collecting data needed to carry out our exploration mission, a cross-division working group was tasked with the review of the oceanographic data recommended for initial exploration of an area, referred to as exploration variables.

The working group identified 91 exploration variables through a literature review of 12 deep-sea publications and reports that synthesize discussions and workshops related to exploration data. Ultimately, the working group deemed 16 exploration variables as high priority for NOAA Ocean Exploration based on the number of mentions in the literature.

“Exploration Variables Identified by NOAA Ocean Exploration” reports on these high-priority exploration variables using NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer as a case study to understand how we address them through one of our primary assets. The report also describes the feasibility assessment process we use to determine whether or not we can effectively and efficiently incorporate new technologies and methods into our operations to meet gaps in our exploration practices. This report will serve as a guide for improving NOAA Ocean Exploration's operations.

High-Priority Exploration Variables

The following 16 high-priority exploration variables for NOAA Ocean Exploration were identified from the literature review. NOAA Ocean Exploration will use them to guide improvements to operations.

  • Species-specific and general biomass, density, distribution, diversity, and abundance: Microbes, plankton, invertebrates, fish, megafauna, marine mammals, meio- and macrofauna
  • Dissolved oxygen
  • Distribution and cover of habitats: Mud volcanoes, cold seeps, vent communities, cold water/deep-sea coral communities, general living habitats, unique and sensitive communities
  • Specimen collection for genetic and morphological identification, species connectivity analysis, and food web/trophic structure analysis
  • Global seafloor mapping and seafloor composition (substrate)
  • Turbidity, suspended particulates concentration, and flux
  • Particulate organic matter, dissolved organic carbon, and heterotrophic and chemoautotrophic carbon
  • Inorganic macronutrients, nitrate/nitrite, silicate, and phosphate
  • Sea surface and subsurface temperature
  • Sea surface and subsurface salinity
  • Sea surface and subsurface currents
  • Carbonate chemistry: Dissolved inorganic carbon, pH, alkalinity, and redox
  • Biophony, anthrophony, and general ocean sound
  • Anthropogenic impacts: Microplastic abundance, size, distribution, and diversity and anthropogenic impacts that may have altered biological communities
  • Bottom pressure
  • Observations of organisms in their environment, organism behavior

Egan, K.E., Le, J.T., Murphy, J.W.A., Netburn, A.N., Bohan, M., Copeland, A., Cromwell, M., Edrington, C., Hammond, S., Malik, M., McKinnie, D., Sowers, D., Valette-Silver, N., and Wagner, D. 2021. Exploration Variables Identified by NOAA Ocean Exploration. NOAA Ocean Exploration. Silver Spring, MD. NOAA Technical Memorandum OAR OER; 004. 136 pp. DOI: https://doi.org/10.25923/m37w-8b55