From July 10 to September 30, a team from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) exploration ship Okeanos Explorer, is going to be mapping the deep waters of the Hawaiian Archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean. As of about 4 hours ago, two of the team's robotic submersibles hit the sea floor some 2,100 metres below the surface, and captured amazing footage of a place no human has ever set eyes on. They're live-streaming the dive right now, which you can view above, and while there's not a while lot to see but the team packing up on the boat, you can also rewind to the beginning to relive the entire sea floor exploration.

The dive site the researchers chose for earlier this morning is Salmon Bank - a submerged volcano near the Pearl and Hermes Reef, estimated to have formed about 20 million years ago. "This area is interesting because the top is flat, 20 km in length, with some areas rising up very near to the ocean surface," says Annalee Newitz for Gizmodo. "It's largely unmapped, and is swarming with life."

It sure is. To save you the trouble of watching the entire 4 hours of footage the ROV captured this morning, I've got a few highlights listed below. It's certainly not comprehensive, but I promise there's some good stuff here, complete with commentary from the awesome scientists who are driving the robot:

  • -3.57: A close-up of a bright orange anemone. It's not such an exciting species, but this is just to show how incredibly detailed the footage can get. Remember - they are now more than 2 km below the surface of the ocean, so to see footage this clear is pretty incredible.
  • -3.36: The ROV collects a sample of coral from the seafloor with almost excruciating care. "Like picking a daisy," notes one of the team. Check out the footage from the second ROV below to see a 'third-person' view of this process.
  • -3.29: Our first fish! This thing is a real beauty. Silvery, blunt-nosed, with a flickering tail, the so-called spiny eel seems completely unphased by the unexpected robotic visitor that's suddenly taking a bunch of close-ups of it. "This is a very cooperative Halosaur - that's the family name," says one of the team. "He's enjoying it all, I think." It even gets so close that they joke about "opening the bio-box", at which point our clever little friend high-tails it out of there.
  • -3.24: A prawn! Watch to hear a bunch of scientists be disappointed by a prawn.
  • -3:21: A cusk eel appears, and you can hear an explanation from an expert about where the name comes from.
  • -2.50: "Another starfish that's abusing a coral", and a by-standing copepod. "That is a weird guy," says a scientist.
  • -1.21: A starfish wrapped around a yellow coral. It looks like octopus tentacles, just fantastic. Into the bio-box it goes!

There's so much more in the video above, so be sure to pop it on while you're working so you don't miss anything. You can also watch the point-of-view of the second ROV, which was filming the first ROV the whole time:

Check in with their YouTube channel and website tomorrow, because they'll be doing another dive in the area, which the team says will hopefully be equally, if not more, interesting than today's. We can't wait.