Meteorite Hunting in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Meteorite Hunting in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Exploration Vessel Nautilus will attempt to locate and recover fragments of a rare, large meteorite fall that was recently observed in NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dive will occur on July 2, 2018, from approximately 9am-4pm PT (weather dependent)--and as always, the public can explore with the Nautilus team in real-time on Nautilus Live!

Dr. Nicole Raineault of the Ocean Exploration Trust will serve as Expedition Leader for this expedition running from July 1-4, 2018. Support for this expedition comes from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Ocean Exploration Trust, and National Geographic Society.

On March 7, 2018, a bright meteorite (called a bolide) fall was observed about 25 km off the coast of Grays Harbor County, Washington--captivating viewers all along the coasts of Washington and Oregon. Ocean Exploration Trust is working with scientists from Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, NASA, and University of Washington to locate the meteorite fall. E/V Nautilus will map a 1 sq km area, and then conduct a search of the area with ROVs Hercules and Argus and recover any fragments located. If successful this will be the first known recovery of a meteorite from the ocean!

NASA Cosmic Dust Curator Dr. Marc Fries, who will be onboard Nautilus for the expedition, provided his analysis that indicates this fall is approximately 2 tonnes of meteorites and the largest meteorite fall he has seen in 21 years’ worth of radar data--since modern weather radars have been online! His analysis included data from the NOAA NEXRAD radar system, terrestrial and ocean bottom seismometers, wave energy shifts detected by a local sensor buoy, and resident accounts and recordings of the visible light plasma that resulted from the falling meteorites.


Meteorite collected from past fall, courtesy Dr. Marc Fries

The calculated mass for the largest meteorite(s) is 4.4 kg, which equates to a meteorite approximately 12 cm (5 in) in diameter. Dr. Fries estimates that at the fall site for the largest meteorite, there may be 2-3 meteorites for every 10 square meters of sea floor. If found, meteorite fragments will be shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and become part of their research collections.

This short expedition will continue to transit from Astoria to Sidney, BC and we will map with the E/V Nautilus EM302 multibeam echosounder and take the opportunity along route to fill in gaps in high resolution mapping. The purpose of this surveying effort is for general bathymetric data collection and seafloor characterization through backscatter.

Follow along with this expedition on Twitter @EVNautilus and on National Geographic's Open Explorer expedition log.

Nautilus Live | Channel 1 Stream

Preliminary Findings from the Nautilus Meteorite Hunt

In July 2018, Exploration Vessel Nautilus attempted to locate and recover fragments of a rare, large meteorite fall that was recently observed in NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. An overnight multibeam sonar survey on July 1 attempted to identify possible meteorite impact locations, but no obvious changes to the seafloor were observed. On July 2, ROVs Hercules and Argus were launched to conduct a 7-hour visual survey of the seafloor in a region identified to likely include the impact site. While exploring this area, the Nautilus team collected several sediment samples using a suction hose sampler, magnetic plate, and sediment scoop. Upon recovering the vehicles, the team spent about six hours in the ship’s wet lab sifting and processing through these silty samples.

NASA Cosmic Dust Curator Dr. Marc Fries conducted an initial visual analysis of the samples collected, and his preliminary findings include two small fragments of fusion crust--meteorite exterior that melted and flowed like glaze on pottery as it entered the atmosphere. Additional analysis will be conducted in the coming weeks to determine if these fragments indeed came from the massive meteorite fall seen entering the Pacific Ocean off Washington’s coast in March 2018. We will continue to post updates on this exciting research as we learn more!

Learn more about this expedition.

Buddy Baker