NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration's Okeanos Explorer 2014 Deep Ocean Explorations in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and Northern Gulf of Mexico

Meme Lobecker and Derek Sowers
Physical Scientists

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, 3:00pm
Chase 130

NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, the only U.S. federal vessel dedicated to global ocean exploration, made several important discoveries in U.S. waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico during the 2014 field season. Based on input received from a broad group of marine scientists and resource managers, over 100,000 square kilometers of seafloor and associated water column were systematically explored using advanced mapping sonars. 39 ROV dives were conducted, leading to new discoveries that will further our understanding of biologic, geologic, and underwater-cultural heritage secrets hidden within the oceans.

In the Atlantic, season highlights include completion of a multi-year submarine canyons mapping effort of the continental shelf break from North Carolina to the U.S.-Canada maritime border; new information on the ephemerality of recently discovered and geographically extensive cold water seeps; and continued exploration of the New England Seamount chain; and mapping of two potential historically significant World War II wreck sites. In the Gulf of Mexico, season highlights include completion of a multi-year mapping effort of the West Florida Escarpment providing new insight into submarine landslides and detachment zones; the discovery of at least two asphalt volcanoes, or 'tar lilies'; range extensions of deep-sea corals; discovery of two potential new species of crinoids; identification of at least 300 potential cold water seeps; and ROV exploration of three historically significant19th century shipwrecks.

In both regions, high-resolution mapping led to new insight into the geological context in which deep sea corals develop,while ROV dives provided valuable observations of deep sea coral habitats and their associated organisms, and chemosynthetic habitats. All mapping and ROV data is freely available to the public in usable data formats and maintained in national geophysical and oceanographic data archives.


Elizabeth (Meme) Lobecker is a Physical Scientist with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER). She spends approximately two to three months per year offshore supporting the mapping efforts on the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer.

Shoreside at the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping (IOCM) center at UNH, she facilitates data archival procedures with the National Geophysical Data Center, and collaborates with other scientists on Okeanos Explorer exploration missions.

Prior to the commencement of her work in 2009 at NOAA, Meme began her career in hydrography in 2002 at Science Applications International Corporation, Inc. (SAIC) in her hometown of Newport, RI, where she spent five years mapping the US east coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska, primarily for NOAA and USGS contracts. She was also a main in-house software tester for SAIC's multibeam acquisition and processing software suite. In 2007, Meme left SAIC to diversify her survey experience through field work in Papua New Guinea, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean for various research and commercial purposes.

Meme completed her masters degree in Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island in 2008, where her worked focused on the recent string of Californian and US Supreme Court cases attempting to manage the potential effects of US Navy mid-frequency sonar testing in the Southern California Range Complex on marine mammals. She holds a bachelor's degree from The George Washington University in Environmental Studies, with minors in geography and biology.

Derek Sowers works as a Physical Scientist with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) supporting ocean mapping efforts of the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer. This work involves overseeing sonar data collection at sea during ocean exploration expeditions, and managing data and collaborating with other scientists shore-side at UNH’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping Joint Hydrographic Center. Derek is also a part-time Oceanography Ph.D. student at CCOM/JHC with interests in seafloor characterization, ocean habitat mapping, and marine conservation.He has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of New Hampshire (1995), and holds an M.S. in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University (2000) where he completed a NOAA-funded assessment of the “Benefits of Geographic Information Systems for State and Regional Ocean Management.” Derek has thirteen years of previous coastal research and management experience working for NOAA’s National Estuarine Research Reserve network and EPA’s National Estuary Program in both Oregon and New Hampshire. Derek has participated in ocean research expeditions in the Arctic Ocean, Gulf of Maine, and Pacific Northwest continental shelf.