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Over 11,000 square miles of seafloor mapped near Johnston Atoll

E/V Nautilus
A mapped image of the seafloor near the Johnston Atoll.

When you go on a road trip, you need a map. That same concept applies to ocean exploration.

Exploration Vessel Nautilus mapped the seafloors around the Johnston Atoll — and to and from Honolulu.

The team mapped over 10,000 square miles of uncharted seafloors in the surrounding waters near the Johnston Atoll, and an additional 1700 square miles during the transit from Honolulu.

"You can do it in a few methods, but the one that works the best especially in these really deep areas is a multi-beam echo sounder because of the idea that acoustic sound travels through water pretty well," expedition leader Erin Heffron explains.

The multi-beam echo sounder is attached to the bottom of E/V Nautilus. The technology is similar to echolocation used by some animals.

"So we can use an acoustic pulse to see how long that pulse goes down on the seafloor, and then how long it takes to return — and from that we get a depth," Heffron tells HPR.

The maps created from this expedition will help scientists conduct on-site research.

E/V Nautilus is currently back in the Johnston Atoll with a new team studying the area’s biodiversity.

Navigator and mapper John Smith says the atoll is likely home to animals with an evolutionary connection to native Hawaiian species.

"There’s been some hypotheses that there’s a tie between the Johnston Atoll area and the Hawaiian Islands as far as transfer of species either one way or both ways," says Smith. "But that’s still kind of in its infancy, and there’s some indication that that has happened in the shallow water species like invertebrates and fishes."

E/V Nautilus will return to Hawaiʻi in mid-July with new findings on sea creatures.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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