One part of Ocean Exploration Trust’s mission is to develop and test new technology that advances the field of deep ocean exploration. During the mission to investigate enigmatic seamounts of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, the Corps of Exploration tested a new piece of technology - the Underwater Gripper. Developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the gripper has 16 fingers spread in a wide array to grasp irregular surfaces under the ocean. In a future development, a gripper like this prototype could have an integrated rock drill. In this case, the gripper would apply the stabilizing force to hold an otherwise neutrally-buoyant ROV close to the seafloor to drill into formations. One of the project engineers, Spencer Backus sailed on this expedition to test the gripper for the first time outside the laboratory.
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This expedition will involve mapping and subsequent ROV dives on enigmatic seamounts located in a poorly explored area of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). The objectives are to determine how and when these seamounts formed and to document the biological communities that presently live on them. The PMNM is the largest contiguous marine protected area in the United States. Deepwater research has been conducted for decades within the original boundaries of the monument, with areas within recently expanded boundaries remaining almost completely unexplored.