The unique capabilities of the vessel allow researchers to characterize habitats from all levels of the marine environment – coastal, open, ocean, deep sea – and combine this information into a comprehensive assessment of the marine ecosystem as a whole. This effort allows resources managers and policymakers to understand the connectivity between each ecosystem and how disturbances to one component can affect the overall balance within the entire marine system.
OceanXplorer possesses a unique toolset that allows researchers to study each ecosystem as a unit before stitching each ecosystem into an integrated ecosystem assessment
Interdisciplinary tools for baseline study of reefs, deep sea areas, unique habitat for MPA management and sustainable policy – The OceanXplorer possess the Otter an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) equipped with bathymetric mapping sonars, an EK80 fisheries sonar, and LiDAR imaging system-all ideal for shallow habitats like coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves. Our shallow water tender metal shark is integrated with an EK80 fisheries sonar and bathymetric mapping sonar, allowing mapping from 20-400m. Additionally, OceanXplorer has a fully equipped SCUBA dive center to enable scientific diving, underwater filming, and even technical diving.
To characterize understudied or unexplored deep sea (>100 meters) ecosystems using a range of methods. These characterizations result in the discovery of new ecosystems, identification of new organisms, build an understanding of key deep-sea habitats and their connectivity to shallow environments, reveal valuable biologic and natural resources, and finally allow environmental managers to support propositions to establish deep water marine protected areas (To achieve “30 by 30” national protection goals.)
To help explore and understand the deep, measurements and data collection must be conducted in the deep ocean:
Geological characterization of the makeup of the seafloor. Using a Knudson Chirp Sub-Bottom profiling sonar array, we can explore the structure and composition beneath the seafloor. This echo sounder reveals the composition and structure of the earth below the seabed.
Study physical and biological properties of the water column above the seabed. Using a cable attached sensor package (CTD), we can measure the temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and light along an entire depth profile (up to ~7,400 meters). Evaluation of these parameters in the water column allows us to understand how water masses are shaping the conditions of life in the ocean. Measurements are made from a sensor array and water is collected from a rosette attached to a deep-sea cable (>7,400 meters in length). With the water sampling rosette, we are able to collect water samples at defined depths and evaluate the presence of environmental DNA (eDNA) for a range of marine species.
Visual characterization of the ocean/ocean features - Using either crewed or uncrewed (ROV) submersibles we can make high-resolution visual maps of deep-sea environments. Such maps allow the visual confirmation of complex and underexplored deep-sea ecosystems whose existence is often disputed due to lack of visual surveys. These tools also allow investigations into caves, walls, brine pools, vents and overhangs on the ocean floor. These areas are inaccessible to traditional deep-sea studies, which rely on destructive methods such as trawls and dredges.
Direct sampling of deep-sea marine organisms and their environment- using a variety of sophisticated sampling instruments we can collect individual organisms, soil, water and sediment samples. We access to water-suction sampling, robotic arm sampling, Niskin water sampling bottles.
Tagging of deep sea organisms – OceanX is the only organization to tag deep sea sharks from manned submersibles-meeting the animals “where they live” to collect data in the least invasive way possible.
Less than 10% of the worlds oceans have been mapped by multibeam sonar equipment. OceanX seeks to raise this figure by comprehensively mapping our marine world from the shallows to the deep-sea. Surveying the bathymetry of the ocean allows us to discover new geologic features, locate hazards such as volcanoes and fault lines, identify crucial marine habitats, and ultimately create a deeper understanding on the surface of our planet.
To survey and understand what lies beneath the ocean surface, OceanX utilizes advanced mapping and photo tools:
Mapping the seafloor. Acoustic sonar systems produce 3D maps of the ocean floor. The OceanXplorer vessel has two hull-mounted deep water multi beam echo sounders (MBES, Köngsberg 304 and 712) which allow mapping of waters from ~100 meters to over 7,000 meters deep. Combining the 3D mapping data with backscatter signals collected simultaneously can help reveal the nature of the ocean floor (rock, sand, coral etc.). In addition to ship based mapping systems on OceanXplorer, we have multibeam sonar systems integrated into our Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Chimaera. The MBES on Chimaera allow high-resolution mapping (cm) of deep-sea features.
Shallow-Water Mapping and Photogrammetry - Using The Otter Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) and support vessel Metal Shark, OceanX can access even shallow-water for careful data collection. The Otter is an easily deployable asset for mapping the seabed in sheltered or extremely shallow waters. The USV is integrated with a Kongsberg multi-beam 2040p echo-sounder and a 360 camera, assets that can create high resolution maps and 3D renderings of locations too difficult for humans to access. This makes the Otter ideal for mapping in habitats with high complexity such as mangroves forests, seagrass meadows or coral reefs. Metal shark is also ideal for mapping in depths ranging from 20-300m. The vessel also supports a small team of scientists, allowing researchers to cover wide swatches of survey area and transport additional science equipment away from the main vessel.
OceanX is constantly staying at the forefront of technology and marine research. By adapting to the technological advances at the forefront of ocean industry and academia, we are engineering solutions to advance our understanding of the marine world and the threats it faces. The OceanX team researches global ocean challenges and regional needs of the areas we aim to study and focuses our scientific planning around technology integration to address those challenges.
Fisheries and eDNA - Environmental DNA (eDNA) is the genetic material shed by organisms as they move around their ocean habitats. eDNA can be extracted from water, sediment, and even air-and provides the genetic material needed to answer a variety of questions about the marine environment. eDNA can be used to augment species assessments for fisheries surveys, to quantify and measure biodiversity in and around Marine Protected Areas, to look for species hard to capture using traditional trawl methods, and even to search for highly migratory species and megafauna. The utilization of eDNA as a tool to supplement existing methods of exploration and surveys/species assessments is a powerful and often cost-effective alternative that can guide policy-makers to science-based decisions about marine environments.
eDNA and ‘Omics on OceanXplorer - The laboratory facilities on OceanXplorer contain all of the materials required to extract DNA from water, sediment, and tissue samples collected by the submersibles, ROV, CTD, and SCUBA divers. DNA can be extracted, purified, and sequenced on board the vessel utilizing Oxford Nanopore Technologies GridION and PromethION sequencing systems. Additional analysis is conducted utilizing various bioinformatic pipelines installed on supercomputers in the labs. We have conducted fisheries metabarcoding studies to supplement stock assessments, biodiversity studies and metagenomic sequencing, and other sequencing projects related to extreme microbes found in brine pools, blue holes, and coral reefs ecosystems.
Blue Carbon (sediment, mangroves, oceanic blue carbon) - Measuring stored carbon content gives countries context on their climate change mitigation efforts. Provides incentive for providing protection. Gives countries data for unlocking funds needed for climate change mitigation, resource management and proper protections.
Deep sea tools and exploration - The construction of OceanXplorer’s submersibles allows for unobstructed views of the surrounding environment with little noise emission, combined with the integrated outfitting of science and media equipment, providing scientists with the critical capability to put “eyes on the ground” and observe, document and collect data on ecosystems and species in their natural environment. The unique style of operations conducted on OceanXplorer is referred to as “Simultaneous Operations” or “SimOps”, designed to deploy both types of subsea assets along different depth gradients and habitats with the goal of balancing multiple science and media objectives across multiple vehicles to maximize sampling and data acquisition in an area. OceanXplorer is the only research vessel with this capability, which has been developed and refined since the launch of the ship in 2020.
Artificial Intelligence (in development) - With the implementation of AI, we aim to conduct data analysis, genetic sequencing, and species and habitat classification using supercomputer power on board OceanXplorer