National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce

Earth–Ocean Interactions

Undersea Cabled observatories on the Juan de Fuca ridge at Axial Seamount.

Undersea cabled observatories on the Juan de Fuca ridge at Axial Seamount.

The Earth–Ocean Interactions group is renowned for interdisciplinary seafloor and water column processes work at numerous volcanic and hydrothermal sites around the globe. The group discovers unique chemosynthetic ecosystems and studies biogeochemical processes of global importance that address the NOAA goals of healthy oceans, technology development, and ocean stewardship. The Earth–Ocean Interactions group researchers are developing and deploying new technology on undersea cabled observatories on the Juan de Fuca ridge at Axial Seamount. Their research is providing a deeper understanding of the complex links between  volcanic activity, hydrothermal chemistry, and microbial ecology. This group has also pioneered exploration and research in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the western Pacific, where their discoveries of new hydrothermal vent ecosystems directly inspired the establishment of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

The Earth–Ocean Interactions group operates a helium isotope laboratory that has analyzed several thousand deep ocean samples for helium isotopes, many of them as part of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) tracer project. One result of WOCE is the most comprehensive description of helium isotope distributions in all the ocean basins. The helium isotope laboratory continues to analyze deep ocean samples to augment this existing tracer database. This data set provides strong constraints on any model that includes a description of ocean circulation. The group also engages in collaborative ocean exploration and research with NOAA’s Ocean Exploration and Research Program office. Currently, their joint expeditions also involve initial collaborations with private sector ocean mining interests for the purpose of understanding and evaluating both environmental and economic drivers for ocean floor mining activity. The group will continue to develop new technologies on undersea cabled observatories on the Juan de Fuca ridge at Axial Seamount to better understand the temporal evolution of this hydrothermal system.

The Earth–Ocean Interactions group will expand its global exploration and research reach by continuing successful partnerships with U.S. and international investigators, and planning initiatives for exploration and research in the Arctic and Antarctic. The group will focus efforts, in partnerships and with the support of other agencies, on the development of a range of both stationary and mobile autonomous technologies that will expand both the geographic and time domain reach of observations while decreasing the program’s dependence on ships. Autonomous technology innovation will include development of sensor suites deployed on easily movable portable seafloor ecosystem observatories. Called Mobile Adaptive Seafloor Telemetry (MAST) systems, they will also have the ability to periodically communicate their data and receive instructions via a satellite connection.