Ads by Google Ads by Google

Two expeditions set to explore deep-sea habitats of American Samoa

The Hercules

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In August and September, The Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) will conduct two expeditions aboard E/V Nautilus to explore deep-sea habitats around American Samoa in collaboration with the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (NMSAS) and other partners.

Both expeditions will survey a wide variety of deep-sea habitats across American Samoa, including areas within the Sanctuary’s 13,581 square miles of protected habitat, as well as outside it. The expeditions are funded by NOAA Ocean Exploration via the Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute (OECI), with additional funding from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the NOAA Uncrewed Systems Operations Center.

“This is a true testament to collaboration and partnership with both local and federal partners. NMSAS also looks forward to the community engagement aspect, getting teachers involved in building professional development, and learning about the process of data collection during the expeditions,” said NMSAS Superintendent Atuatasi Lelei Peau.

The exploration of American Samoa begins in August when E/V Nautilus will conduct an 18-day expedition focused on exploring seamounts around American Samoa to understand better the rich biological communities that live on the seafloor of these underwater mountains and also on the midwater habitats above them. This expedition will visit various seamounts, including the hotspot volcano Vailulu’u Seamount. 

Located 90 miles east of Pago Pago, 20 miles east of Ta’u Island, and within the Sanctuary, Vailulu’u Seamount is the only active volcano in American Samoa.

First discovered in 1975 after a series of earthquakes were traced back to its location, Vailulu’u Seamount has been previously mapped from 1999 to 2019. These successive surveys found that this is a highly dynamic seafloor area, with a volcanic cone in the crater that grew by over 300 meters (1,000 feet) in less than four years. Vailulu’u was last mapped in 2019, so the upcoming surveys will provide important new insights into this highly active area's changing geology, biology, and oceanography. 

In addition to Vailulu’u, the August expedition will survey other seamounts around American Samoa, and provide new insights on the importance of these deep-water habitats. To do this, the expedition will deploy many advanced technologies from partners of the NOAA OECI, a consortium of oceanographic institutions that work together to explore poorly known ocean areas, advance ocean exploration technologies, and train the next generation of explorers. The mission will simultaneously utilize the University of New Hampshire’s uncrewed surface vehicle DriX, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s autonomous underwater vehicle Mesobot and the University of Rhode Island’s Deep Autonomous Profiler.

“NOAA Ocean Exploration is proud to support expeditions that bring together new technologies to gather data needed to address the priorities of the community of American Samoa, national exploration priorities, and international collaborations,” Aurora Elmore, NOAA Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute Manager said.

In September, E/V Nautilus will conduct a second expedition to explore deep-sea habitats around American Samoa, including hydrothermal vents, coral and sponge habitats, bottom fish habitats, abyssal plains, and others. This 23-day mission will use E/V Nautilus’ deep-diving remotely operated vehicles and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry.

In addition to characterizing a wide diversity of deep-sea habitats, the September expedition hopes to search for the Samoan Clipper. The Pan American seaplane crashed offshore Tutuila in 1938 during an attempt to inaugurate a regular air mail service between Hawai’i and New Zealand.

Despite several previous search efforts, including a 2019 E/V Nautilus expedition, the site of one of the most historically significant commercial aviation losses in the Pacific is yet to be found. Despite several previous search efforts, including a 2019 E/V Nautilus expedition, the site of one of the most historically significant commercial aviation losses in the Pacific is yet to be found.  

The upcoming expeditions will collect important baseline information across a wide variety of previously unexplored deep-sea habitats of American Samoa. The data will help to inform future management and conservation decisions across the region.

“It’s a privilege for OET to return to American Samoa, and we’re looking forward to launching two expeditions to learn together and share the deep ocean with American Samoans and audiences all over the world,” says Megan Cook, OET’s Director of Education & Outreach. 

Educators, scientists, and students from American Samoa will sail on the upcoming expeditions, including representatives from NMSAS, the American Samoa Department of Education, and local schools.

Throughout the expeditions, live footage will be streamed on, providing an opportunity for everyone to experience the findings and discoveries of the mission in real time. The expedition team and partners are in the process of developing a schedule of additional outreach activities in Pago Pago to engage with ocean stakeholders and the community before, during, and after the expeditions.