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Search and Discover the Ocean World

Video portal opens window to deep-sea discoveries

Picture of coral lobster from Okeanos Explorer dive in Gulf of Mexico, 2018.
Courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research

Using cameras onboard unmanned, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), NOAA explorers are opening up the ocean for everyday viewing. Welcome to your personal window on the deep reaches of the ocean.

Since 2010, NOAA has recorded and archived thousands of hours of video from expeditions conducted aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer, the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore our largely unknown ocean. A joint initiative between NCEI and NOAA Ocean Exploration created access to the video archives from Okeanos Explorer called the NOAA Ocean Exploration Video Portal. Featuring expeditions from the Mariana Trench to the Puerto Rican Seamounts, the portal shares incredible video of newly explored underwater locations, geological features, marine life, and historical artifacts.

Big Data Primed for Portal

The complexity of file types and voluminous storage requirements of video data make underwater video difficult to efficiently store, manage, and steward. Video data from Okeanos Explorer expeditions soon dwarfed the volume of other ocean data being collected by the vessel; video data now encompass over 70% of the data managed by the NOAA Ocean Exploration Data Management Team. To address the unique challenges posed by the video data, the data management team, led by NCEI, began a collaborative pilot project in 2013 to modernize video data management.

The team utilized the NOAA Comprehensive Large Array-Data Stewardship System (CLASS) for deep storage of high-resolution video and local storage at NCEI for low-resolution video. The team provided video by request, but growing interest made it apparent that the optimal solution was a self-service portal for discovering and accessing video. The solution became the NOAA Ocean Exploration Video Portal, a multi-functional website for public use.

The NOAA Ocean Exploration Video Portal’s self-service model makes it simple for users to search the video collection by date, dive site, cruise, depth, and geographic coverage. Users can stream and download selected video segments, and, if desired, place an order for online delivery of the same segments in full, broadcast-quality resolution. Video files have been segmented into 5-gigabyte chunks (roughly 5-minute video clips) for optimal storage and faster download.

The Proof is in the Pictures

High-definition cameras onboard the Okeanos Explorer’s two-body ROV system capture the seemingly alien biology and geology of the deep sea down to nearly four miles in depth. One camera onboard ROV Deep Discoverer is capable of zooming in on a three-inch organism from ten feet away. Data collected by these ROV cameras exhibit ocean life to the world: both as a live, internationally televised feed during initial collection and as an archived dataset.

Underwater imagery often shows an otherworldly impression of the planet. From curious glimpses of the dumbo octopus’s poetic propulsion to beautiful tar-like volcanic asphalt formations called “tar lilies,” the creatures and landscape of the deep sea frequently defy simple description. Videos also capture how scientists use robotic arms to collect specimens for further study. Okeanos Explorer missions can also result in new discoveries, like unexpected sightings of distinctive echinoderm species, also known as sea stars.

Video data record a holistic view of the underwater landscape. When coupled with scientific data from the standard shipboard sensor suite—for example with multibeam bathymetry and ocean chemistry—the scientific value of video data increases exponentially, supporting policy development and resource management decisions.