2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones: New England and Corner Rise Seamounts

Media Resources

This page provides members of the media with information, resources, and imagery developed in association with the 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones: New England and Corner Rise Seamounts expedition.

From June 30 to July 29, 2021, NOAA Ocean Exploration and partners will conduct a telepresence-enabled ocean exploration expedition on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to collect critical information and improve knowledge about unexplored and poorly understood deepwater areas of the New England Seamounts and the Corner Rise Seamounts in the high seas of the North Atlantic. The expedition will expand on previous NOAA Ocean Exploration expeditions to explore the New England Seamounts conducted in 2013 and 2014. The expedition will begin and end in Newport, Rhode Island.

The expedition will include both mapping and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) operations, with video from ROV dives streamed online in real time from approximately 8:30 am to 4:00 pm ET most days between July 2 to July 28 (two days will be dedicated to transit and mapping operations, with no dives scheduled). Dive sites are expected to include seamounts, deep-sea coral and sponge communities, unique geological features, and other deep-sea habitats.

On this page:

Importance | Goals | Partners | Explorers | Videos & Images | Background Info | Contact Info

Expedition Importance

The New England and Corner Rise seamount chains comprise a line of extinct submarine volcanoes that extend from near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to the eastern continental margin of the United States. Together with the deep sides of the Azores platform, these features constitute a nearly continuous series of hard, submerged islands along the otherwise flat plain of abyssal mud extending across the North Atlantic Ocean.

How did these seamounts form? What resources do they hold? What animals live on these undersea mountains? Are they found on one seamount or many? Why? Scientists hope to begin to reveal answers to some of these questions over the course of the expedition, thereby helping us to identify, understand, protect, and manage sensitive marine life and habitats, geological features, and potential resources.

Four Key Things to Know About the Expedition

  1. This expedition will yield important clues as to how seamounts within a chain may act as “stepping stones” of habitat where deep-sea animals can settle and live. Rising up from an otherwise often barren seafloor, a single seamount can become a hotspot of biodiversity, providing a place where many species live and thrive together. But when several seamounts within a chain, such as along the New England and Corner Rise seamounts, are just the right distance apart from each other, they can act as “stepping stones” across which larvae from animals such as fish or coral can travel and settle. These seamounts can provide even more suitable habitat for marine life than just a single peak, potentially increasing overall biodiversity in a wider ocean region.
  2. This expedition will fill important gaps in our understanding of the geological features and resources of the New England and Corner Rise seamounts, which remain relatively unexplored and unknown from a geological perspective. The New England and Corner Rise seamounts formed through hotspot volcanism an estimated 75-125 million years ago, though it is unclear how the two seamount chains are related. These once active, but now extinct and submerged volcanoes rise from 500 meters to several kilometers above the surrounding seafloor. Submarine landslides, ocean currents, and accumulation of sediments over millions of years have altered the shape of many of them. Along the sides of many of the seamounts, ferromanganese crusts have accumulated over time; these crusts are rich with critical commodities like manganese, copper, and cobalt that are widely used in modern technologies. Geological exploration of these seamounts through mapping, visual surveys, and collection of samples offers an opportunity to learn more about hotspot volcanism; submarine landslide hazards; seamount geomorphology, age, and evolution; and ferromanganese crust accretion in an area where only sparse data currently exist.
  3. During a large part of the expedition, we will be exploring the high seas, which cover roughly two-thirds of the ocean and 50% of the planet, yet remain among the least understood environments on Earth. While humans, through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, define the high seas to include all parts of the ocean that are not within any country’s exclusive economic zone, territorial sea, or internal waters, animals in the ocean don’t recognize geopolitical borders and instead live wherever they find suitable habitat. This habitat may lie inside the jurisdiction of one or more countries and/or within the waters of the high seas and thus governed by no one. This habitat is often home to deep-sea coral and sponge communities, which are some of the most important marine ecosystems on the planet, creating structures that provide shelter, food, and nursery habitat to other invertebrates and fish, including some that are commercially important. Learning more about the high seas through exploration is critical to ensuring they are collectively and sustainably managed for the good of the planet.
  4. Throughout this expedition, we will use the advanced sonar systems on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to fill critical gaps in mapping data for the New England and Corner Rise seamount chains. As a whole, the ocean covers 70% of our planet’s surface, yet less than 20% of the global seafloor has been mapped with modern high-resolution technology. The collection of high-resolution mapping data, including seafloor, sub-bottom, and water column data, is the first step in exploring and thus understanding our ocean. Data collected during this expedition will help further inform dive targets for the expedition and while also helping to guide future exploration efforts; help to establish a baseline assessment of the ocean environment; increase understanding of marine life and habitats to inform management decisions; help identify, assess, and mitigate natural hazards; and increase public awareness of ocean issues. Collected data will also support the national goal of mapping all waters within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone deeper than 40 meters (131 feet) by 2030 and fill mapping data gaps in the high seas in support of Seabed 2030 efforts to generate a complete world seafloor map by 2030.

Expedition Goals

NOAA Ocean Exploration priorities for the 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones: New England and Corner Rise Seamounts expedition combine science, education, outreach, and open data to provide a better understanding of the North Atlantic Ocean region. Specific expedition goals include:

  • Improving knowledge of unexplored areas within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the high seas to inform management needs regarding sensitive habitats, geological features, and potential resources.
  • Locating and characterizing deep-sea coral and sponge communities.
  • Enhancing predictive capabilities for vulnerable marine habitats and marine minerals.
  • Extending seafloor mapping coverage in the U.S. EEZ and the high seas in support of Seabed 2030 and the National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Increasing understanding of the role the New England and Corner Rise seamounts play in deep-sea ecosystem connectivity across the Atlantic basin.
  • Improving international collaboration and contributing to the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation and the Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance’s deep-sea mapping and exploration efforts.
  • Engaging a broad spectrum of the scientific community and the general public in telepresence-enabled exploration.
  • Providing publicly accessible data and information products to spur further exploration, research, and resource management activities.

Additionally, the 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones: New England and Corner Rise Seamounts will contribute to NOAA’s Atlantic Seafloor Partnership for Integrated Research and Exploration (ASPIRE), a major multiyear, multinational collaborative field program focused on raising collective knowledge and understanding of the North Atlantic.

Expedition Partners

The expedition is being led by NOAA Ocean Exploration in partnership with a number of NOAA offices including the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations; NOAA Fisheries Deep Sea Coral and Research and Technology Program and Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office; and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Other partners include the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Maine School of Marine Sciences , Fisheries and Oceans Canada , the Sargasso Sea Commission , and numerous academic and non-profit institutions, both domestic and international.


The individuals listed below will primarily lead activities during the expedition. They will coordinate input from multiple scientists and managers participating from shore to plan dives and are several of the voices you hear on the live video feeds and the primary participants in outreach events. For a full list of regularly participating members of the team, please visit the Explorers page.
Kasey Cantwell

Kasey Cantwell

Expedition Coordinator, NOAA Office Exploration

Kasey Cantwell is the operations chief for the Expeditions and Exploration Division of NOAA Ocean Exploration. Kasey has a master’s degree in marine affairs and policy and marine geology and geophysics and a bachelor’s degree in marine science and biology, both from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Kasey joined NOAA Ocean Exploration in 2012 and is responsible for overseeing the office’s operational portfolio, including telepresence-enabled expeditions conducted aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. In her previous role as an expedition coordinator for remotely operated vehicle expeditions, she coordinated over a dozen expeditions and projects, including multidisciplinary expeditions to the Atlantic submarine canyons, the Mariana region, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Glacier Bay National Park, and offshore the southeastern United States. Beyond deep-sea exploration, Kasey’s background includes imagery-based mapping of coral reefs throughout the Caribbean, long-term ecosystem monitoring, and evaluating resource management strategies to improve efficiency and data quality.

Kimberly Galvez

Kimberly Galvez

Expedition Coordinator in Training, NOAA Ocean Exploration

A Florida native, Kim’s interests in marine life started at a young age with regular trips to the reefs in the Florida Keys. Kim studied biological sciences at the University of Miami where she became a research assistant with the Marine Geosciences Department at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS). Kim continued her education at RSMAS, earning a doctorate in marine geology and geophysics, focusing on cold-water coral systems within the carbonate province of the Straits of Florida. Her research included habitat mapping and terrain classification with acoustic maps, carbonate sedimentology, stable isotope geochemistry, and geochronometry. After sailing as a geology science lead during NOAA Ocean Exploration’s 2019 Southeastern U.S. Deep-sea Exploration expedition, Kim joined the office as an expedition coordinator in 2020. During her spare time, Kim enjoys traveling, hiking, scuba diving, and baking.

Shannon Hoy

Shannon Hoy

Mapping Lead, NOAA Ocean Exploration

Shannon Hoy is a Mapping Lead with NOAA Ocean Exploration. She has always had a love of the ocean and pursued a degree in marine biology from the College of Charleston, where she was first introduced to seafloor mapping in 2009. During her undergraduate career, she participated with four seafloor mapping expeditions, allowing her to increase her seafloor mapping knowledge and skills, make valuable connections, and travel to exotic places such as Indonesia and Antarctica. Two of these expeditions were actually aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in 2010! After completing her undergraduate degree, Shannon spent the next few years gaining as much multidisciplinary ocean experience as possible. She worked for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Submarine Geohazards Group in Woods Hole, as well as the University of Bristol’s Paleoceanography group in the United Kingdom. She continued to map throughout these years, and began specializing in habitat mapping using high-resolution techniques (such as remotely operated vehicle mounted multibeam), seamlessly combining her three disciplines: marine biology, geology, and seafloor mapping. In 2015, Shannon began pursuing her Master’s degree in Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, with the aim to increase her theoretical acoustic and geodetic background. Towards the end of her graduate degree, she jumped at the opportunity to join the NOAA Ocean Exploration team as a Mapping Lead, as being an Explorer-in-Training with the office nearly a decade earlier had greatly shaped her career and allowed her to pursue her passion for ocean exploration.

Jason Chaytor

Jason Chaytor

Geology Science Co-lead, Research Geologist, U.S. Geological Survey (on shore)

Jason Chaytor is a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center. Jason graduated from Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia) in 2000 with a first-class honours degree in geology, completed his Ph.D. in geological oceanography at Oregon State University in 2006, and was a postdoctoral scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution between 2006 and 2009. Jason conducts research on issues related to marine geohazards including submarine landslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, and plate tectonics, and shallow- and deep-water sedimentary processes on Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific margins of the United States and in the northeast Caribbean. He is the current principal scientist for the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Sediments Laboratory.

Kira Mizell

Kira Mizell

Geology Science Co-lead, Research Geologist, U.S. Geological Survey (on shore)

Kira Mizell is a research oceanographer for the Global Ocean Mineral Resources program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. She started working at the USGS on marine minerals research in 2011 and received her Ph.D. in 2019 from the University of California, Santa Cruz, while continuing her work at the USGS. She has attended and participated from shore in research expeditions in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. She studies minerals that form in the deep ocean, focusing on ferromanganese crusts, manganese nodules, and phosphorites. These deep-ocean minerals scavenge elements from seawater or sediment pore water during their slow precipitation. Their chemical composition reveals information about ocean chemistry from the past, and some elements accumulate to concentrations high enough to cause these mineral types to be considered as a potential mineral resource. She also investigates the relationship of different metal enrichments to the co-located biological communities, utilizing a multidisciplinary approach to holistically examine marine mineral and concomitant ecosystem resources. On this expedition, she is interested in the distribution of deep-sea minerals in this region of the North Atlantic Ocean and how the oceanographic conditions, like high sedimentation and strong currents, affect their morphology, especially compared with marine minerals from the Pacific Ocean. She hopes discoveries on this expedition will improve knowledge of where marine mineral occurrences of interest for scientific study or potential mineral resources may be found and what biological communities are associated with them.

Rhian Waller

Rhian Waller

Biology Science Lead, Associate Professor, University of Maine

Rhian Waller is an associate professor of marine sciences at the University of Maine. She received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and her Ph.D. at the National Oceanographic Centre, Southampton, also in the United Kingdom. She first came to the United States for a postdoc at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 2004, and has been in the United States ever since. Her research is mainly focused on the reproductive ecology of deep-sea organisms, primarily cold-water corals, and how this important process is affected by environmental change (natural and human caused). A large part of her research program looks at where cold-water corals live around the globe (biogeography), so that her research group can start to hypothesize larval transport linkages and what is possible given a species’ reproductive potential.

Videos & Images

Dive highlight videos, short video clips, and photos will be posted online as they become available.

"Real-Life" SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star Sighting

On July 27, 2021, while exploring Retriever Seamount, one of four seamounts located within the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the NOAA Ocean Exploration-led 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones expedition team imaged a yellow sea sponge (genus Hertwigia) and pink sea star (genus Chondraster) thought to resemble the Nickelodeon cartoon characters, SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star.

Download raw video: ProRes (.mov, 5.6 GB) | LowRes (.mp4, 68.7 MB)
Download image: (jpg, 543 kb)

Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration, 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones
Date: July 27, 2021
Depth: 1,885 meters (6,184 feet)
Location: Retriever Seamount, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument
Dive Summary

Expedition home page

Please contact Emily Crum for high-resolution footage, B-roll, and other materials posted on the NOAA Ocean Exploration website.

NOAA Ocean Exploration Background Information

  • NOAA Ocean Exploration is the only federal program dedicated to ocean exploration, making the office uniquely situated to lead partners in delivering critical deep-ocean information to managers, decision makers, scientists, and the public, leveraging federal investments to meet national priorities. In 2021, we are celebrating our 20th anniversary of deep-ocean exploration.
  • NOAA Ocean Exploration’s work supports the National Strategy for Mapping, Exploring, and Characterizing the United States Exclusive Economic Zone, which calls for coordinating interagency mapping and exploration activities for the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), developing new and emerging science and mapping technologies, building public and private partnerships, and completing mapping of the deep water of the U.S. EEZ by 2030 and the near shore by 2040.
  • NOAA Ocean Exploration owns the mission equipment being used during the expedition and is coordinating the mission on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer. The ship is operated by the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps and civilians as part of NOAA's fleet managed by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.
  • Unlike many other ocean expeditions supported by NOAA, most of the scientists participating in Okeanos Explorer missions remain on shore, thanks to telepresence technology. This technology includes a high-bandwidth satellite connection that enables the transmission of data and video to shore in real time, allowing scientists to participate in the expedition from anywhere in the world.
  • Anyone with an Internet connection can follow the expeditionLIVE. The same technology that allows scientists around the world to participate in the expedition from shore also enables interested members of the public to experience deep-sea exploration, the wonder of discovery, and the fascination of science in real time through the Internet. Expedition features, dive summaries, and multimedia elements will be added to the website throughout the expedition to keep everyone informed.
  • Data collected during expeditions on NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer are quality assured and then made quickly available to the scientists and the public. This data collection serves as a unique and centralized national resource of critical ocean information for scientists and resource managers to plan future research, make management decisions, detect natural hazards, improve nautical charts, and more.

Media Contact Information

NOAA Ocean Exploration
Emily Crum
Communications Specialist
Email Address: emily.crum@noaa.gov

NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
David Hall
Public Affairs Officer
Email Address: david.l.hall@noaa.gov