Posts Tagged 'deep sea exploration'

The Ocean, Our Planet’s Final Frontier

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In Barcelona in 2006, oceanographer Sylvia Earle received an international award for her storied career as an ocean explorer. Also honored that day was John Hanke, developer of the now-famous Earth visualization tool Google Earth. Smiling slyly, Dr. Earle commended John for creating an amazing new way to view the world, then asked, “When do you plan to finish it? You’ve done a great job with the land—‘Google Dirt.’ What about the ocean?” Thus challenged, John asked Sylvia and her team to help him fix this oversight and in early 2009, we unveiled Ocean in Google Earth, offering earthlings a global view of the ocean’s vast bathymetry.

This story illustrates a truth about how many of us think (or more accurately, don’t think) about the ocean. Though half the world’s population lives within 50 miles of a coast, the cliché “out of sight, out of mind” describes the way most of us relate to the expansive, interconnected ocean that covers 70 percent of Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of its water.

This blue planet is indeed a water planet, yet incredibly, over 90 percent of the ocean remains unexplored and unseen by humans. In a world that’s increasingly tamed and cataloged, it’s astounding to learn that until last year, only two human beings had been to the ocean’s greatest depth: Challenger Deep, off the Mariana Islands. That epic descent occurred in 1960—before we’d even ventured into space! Just last year, one more explorer made the voyage: renowned filmmaker James Cameron piloted a new craft, Deepsea Challenger, there and back. I suspect we’ll soon be treated to some spectacular footage of a world we understand less than we do the planet Mars.

Experts believe that up to two-thirds of the plant and animal species in the ocean may still await our discovery, with as many as one million species of non-bacterial sealife yet to be identified. In other words, we’ve only scratched the ocean’s surface.

Scientists, poets and philosophers have referred to the ocean as our planet’s life-support system, its blue lungs. Our air, weather, freshwater, climate and much of our food are ultimately regulated, moderated or provided by the sea’s seemingly limitless bounty. Over 2.6 billion people rely on the ocean for their primary source of protein. And we count on the ocean to absorb more than 30 percent of the climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) we produce.

Yet for all these benefits (called ‘ecosystem services’ by ecologists), the ocean cannot sustain our unrelenting onslaught. We put in too many bad things, take out too many good things, and reconfigure its shores, chemistry and balance. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have calculated that the ocean absorbs and stores 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere, yet it’s no secret that atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas are rising at an alarming rate and now routinely approach 400 parts per million; at this rate, we are poised to double pre-Industrial Revolution CO2 levels in the next few decades. And, in case you’re wondering, human-influenced climate change is no longer mere theory, as if it ever were. In a review of 12,000 papers published in research journals, 97 percent of the authors—atmospheric scientists who seldom agree on anything—concur that it is directly attributed to human activities.

Against this gloomy backdrop, one might ask, “What hope is there?” In my view, there’s plenty. We have never known so much about aquatic systems and the delicate interplay between them. We’ve doubled the area of our National Marine Sanctuary system over the past decade. We have a National Ocean Policy and a nascent implementation plan, the first in our nation’s history. Whether in fisheries management, ecosystem thinking or product life-cycle planning, we’re learning from our past and planning a better future.

Here at National Aquarium, we value the conservation of aquatic treasures—by which we mean habitats and inhabitants, human and non-human, individual and community. By definition, treasures are worth protecting. World Oceans Day is one way of celebrating such oceanic treasures. This year, I invite you to embrace a thought, one shared by all of us who commit our lives to the sea: the ocean matters to me and to those I love. With every drop of water you drink and every breath you take, you are connected to this complex ecosystem, whether you live on the coast, in the mountains, in a city or a desert.

Simply by existing, the ocean gives us the gift of life. It’s time we returned the favor.

Blog-Header-JohnRacanelli

The DeepSea Challenger is Coming to Washington, DC!

Explorer & Academy-Award winner, James Cameron, will be bringing DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, the  world’s only piloted submersible capable of diving to full-ocean depth, to Washington, DC on June 11, 2013!

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The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER. Photo credit: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Cameron piloted the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER to a depth of 35,787 feet in the Challenger Deep, an area located within the US Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, last year. He became the first person in history to reach the Challenger Deep as a sole pilot!

This historic dive was part of the broader DEEPSEA CHALLENGE Expedition, the first manned scientific expedition to explore the Mariana and New Britain Trenches, and marked the first time in 52 years a human reached the world’s deepest known point.

Not only was Cameron’s expedition historically important, the trip was also sparked a renewed interest in deep sea exploration and research. The Expedition’s scientific findings included the discovery of at least 68 new species!

DEEPSEA CHALLENGER Visits Washington, DC 

When: 
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
12:30 pm

Where:
Woodrow Wilson Plaza, Washington DC (located on Pennsylvania Ave. between the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the Federal Triangle Metro Station, right across the street from National Aquarium, Washington, DC)

What: 
Guests will enjoy a fun, ocean-related presentation by James Cameron himself, Susan Avery, President and Director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Avatar Alliance Foundation outreach team, and National Aquarium CEO, John Racanelli. Education activities will also be on-site. 

By bringing the submersible to our nation’s capital, the Avatar Alliance Foundation hopes to engage local students and reinforce the critical importance of STEM education for future advances in the fields of engineering, robotics, ocean science and research.

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER’s stop in Washington, DC will be its fifth stop in a nation-wide trek from Los Angeles to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, where the submersible’s engineering advancements will be incorporated into further research.

The truck carrying the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER cross-country!

The truck carrying the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER cross-country!

Cameron is a member of the Advisory Board for WHOI’s new Center for Marine Robotics.

We hope you can join us for this historic event! 


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