The President's Panel Report on Ocean Exploration defined ocean exploration as discovery through disciplined, diverse observations and recordings of findings. It includes rigorous, systematic observations and documentation of biological, chemical, physical, geological, and archaeological aspects of the ocean in the three dimensions of space and in time.
The Panel's recommendations gave rise to NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration in 2001 and helped establish NOAA as the lead agency for a federal ocean exploration program. This leadership continues within OER. There are two paradigms for exploration:
- Targeted exploration: The sweeping goals of an exploration program can be met only if specific ocean regions or problems are tackled. In partnership with academia and other government agencies, the "holes in the sea," are explored: areas ripe for discovery where there has been little exploration to date. Expeditions based on programmatic and geographic areas of study include (but are not limited to) marine biodiversity, the Arctic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, exploring the ocean through time, and marine archaeology.
- Systematic exploration: OER and partners are advancing a new paradigm for exploration, giving shore-based explorers of all kinds and ages access to the excitement of real-time discovery on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer and the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus. Using high-speed satellite and Internet 2 connections, explorers can remain on shore at Exploration Command Centers and guide or contribute to exploration plans and observations, communicating real-time with the shipboard scientists and technicians. Through standard Internet connections, anyone with a computer and web access can watch and listen in on operations aboard ship, bringing real-time exploration into living rooms, schools, laboratories and businesses across the globe.
Great challenges remain to fully exploring and understanding the ocean. Cutting-edge technologies and methodologies continue to be developed by those dedicated to ocean exploration, and the potential of ocean exploration has only begun to be met.