NOAA 2003-R508
Contact: Frank Gorell
NOAA News Releases 2003
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs

Daily Mission Logs Chronicled Exploration for Students and Scientists

Rough seas, a swordfish attack on a submersible and an exploratory dive cut short by strong underwater currents are some of the challenges a NOAA-led team of scientists faced while exploring the Charleston Bump. A prominent rocky feature lying 1,200 to 2,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic, the Charleston Bump is 83 miles southeast of Charleston, S.C. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the Department of Commerce.

Despite the unexpected challenges, the team collected and studied specimens and data and discovered more about how fast-flowing water of the Gulf Stream influences the organisms that adapt and live on and around the Bump.

“At sea, both the ship’s crew and scientists learn to be flexible when problems arise and to use available time toward other objectives,” said Charlie Barans, senior marine scientist at the Marine Resources Research Institute at South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and the expedition’s chief scientist for studying habitat and species diversity.

Stephen Stancyk, a professor at Baruch Institute’s Marine Science Program at the University of South Carolina, served as chief scientist for characterizing Charleston Bump’s benthic (bottom dwelling) invertebrate community.

During the Aug. 2-14 expedition, the explorers posted daily mission logs as well as images from the deep and a computer-simulated “flyover” of the Bump to bring the science and excitement of the mission in near-real time to students, scientists and armchair explorers. See the chronicle of the expedition at and click on "Charleston Bump."

The site also offered teachers of Grades 5-12, lesson plans with hands-on, inquiry-based activities jointly developed by NOAA, educators and scientists. The lessons were specifically tied to the Charleston Bump Expedition and National Science Education Standards. NOAA also coordinated a workshop for 24 teachers from two states. The workshop provided the teachers with an opportunity to talk live with explorers who were on the ocean bottom in a manned submersible.

Charleston Bump is so named because it’s a bump in the path of the Gulf Stream, a warm jet-like current transporting water northward along the continental margin at an estimated 30 million cubic meters (172,000 in-ground swimming pools) per second.

The Gulf Stream’s powerful flow extends to the seafloor. When it abruptly meets the Charleston Bump, the Gulf Stream widens as it deflects seaward, generating meanders and swirling centers of counterclockwise flows known as cyclonic eddies. As these eddies spin, the sea surface tends to bulge up causing deeper, colder water to move upwards. It’s in this largely unexplored environment that scientists are studying how sea creatures adapt to benefit from currents, or hide from them on rock bottoms or in scour depressions, scarps and caves.

“Under such harsh conditions, one might expect to find a dearth of marine life," said George Sedberry, senior marine scientist at the Marine Resources Research Institute, a part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “Yet a submersible visit to the bottom revealed three-foot long wreckfish, large barrelfish and bizarre forms of corals and sponges bending into the current to scoop up the sparse plankton drifting in the Gulf Stream. Because the Bump has not been explored to any degree, the expedition looked for new species, especially when the submersible applied suction to small crevices and in caves where creatures may hide."

“I looked for ‘living rocks,’”said Leslie Sautter, associate professor at the College of Charleston’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. “Specimens are taken by permit that show the diversity of Charleston Bump on a single rock. We found organisms living on the bottom of rocks to get out of the current and very different organisms on the top of those rocks—organisms that adapted to currents.”

The exploration team descended on Charleston Bump in the Harbor Branch
Oceanographic Institute’s (HBOI) Johnson-Sea-Link manned submersible. Operating from HBOI’s 204-foot research vessel Seward Johnson, the submersible, certified to dive to 3,000 feet, has specialized equipment such as manipulator arms, suction devices, rotary plankton samplers, sonar, still and video cameras and xenon arc lights that can approximate sunlight in the dark seas at the bottom of Charleston Bump.

After a turnaround in Charleston, S.C., the research vessel with it's submersible and a new team of scientists, will be underway to study the deepwater coral reefs of the North Carolina Lopehelia Banks.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources. To learn more about NOAA, please visit

On the Web:

NOAA’s Ocean Explorer Program: