"It's really a reflection of how unknown the ocean is," McKinnie says. "Every time we go to a new place, we find something new, and something new about the ocean that's important."
And these expeditions can have important impacts not just for biological cataloging, but also for the environment, McKinnie says.
In a 2004 expedition in the Pacific Ocean, NOAA scientists identified a group of underwater volcanoes that were "tremendous" sources of carbon dioxide, and thus contributed to increasing ocean acidification, McKinnie says. Research has shown that when ocean waters become more acidic from absorbing carbon dioxide, they produce less of a gas that protects the Earth from the sun's radiation and can amplify global warming. But until NOAA's expedition, no measures accounted for carbon dioxide produced from underwater volcanoes.
"It's not just bringing back pretty pictures," McKinnie says. "It's getting real results that matter."