Posts Tagged 'ocean exploration'

Thoughtful Thursday: Ignoring the Unknown

The moon might seem like a mysterious, distant speck in the night sky, but, truth is, we know more about its backside than we do about four-fifths of our own planet.

Did you know? We have maps detailing every mountain and crater on the moon’s surface, but only 5 percent of our ocean has been mapped in high resolution. The rest has been captured in low-resolution maps that offer limited detail, often omitting volcanic craters, underwater channels and shipwrecks.

­Unsurprisingly, most of the seafloor we’ve been able to thoroughly map is close to shore and along common commercial shipping routes. And if you think “close to shore” at least incorporates America’s exclusive economic zone—the underwater territory spanning 200 miles off our coastlines—think again. We have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our nation’s own EEZ.

mapping graphic

So why don’t we have more high-res maps of our blue planet? Well, considering the average ocean depth is approximately 2.2 miles, or 12,000 feet, it’s a massive project to take on. We’re talking about more than 200 years of collecting data via ships, plus billions of U.S. dollars.

That said, these maps are invaluable tools for understanding everything from the condition and extent of seafloor habitats to how tsunamis spread around the world.

Additionally, those detailed images could also be used by organizations as visual tools to help change the way humanity views and cares for the ocean. Think about it: You’re unlikely to care about something you can’t see and know very little about. Because the ocean is largely unknown, unseen and inaccessible, conservation efforts are often challenged by a sense of futility, apathy and even alienation. Seeing what lies beneath the water’s surface could help inspire the world to protect it.

To view the areas that have been mapped, check out Google Earth. Its 3-D maps—based on 20 years of data from almost 500 ship cruises and 12 different institutions—allow you to virtually explore some of the world’s underwater terrain.

google street view oceans

Another great resource is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website, which offers sea floor maps of the world’s coasts, continental shelves and deep ocean.

There’s no denying that exploring and charting the vast ocean and seafloor is a difficult and costly endeavor; but considering it provides us with about half the oxygen we breathe, our main source of protein and a plethora of mineral resources, among other things we rely on daily, it may be a challenge worth tackling.

 

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Thoughtful Thursday: The Next Frontier

You would think that by time we had the technology to send people to the moon, we’d be experts on our own planet; but the truth is, more than 95 percent of our underwater world remains unexplored, leaving us nearly clueless as to what lies far below the water’s surface.

In space travel’s short history, we’ve sent 536 humans into the cosmos. Yet only three explorers have braved the depths of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. Its lowest point rests 36,070 feet (nearly 7 miles) below the water’s surface. To give you some context: If you dropped Mount Everest into the Mariana Trench, its peak would still be more than a mile underwater.

Exploration Above and Below

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard made the first descent to the bottom of the trench, called the Challenger Deep, in 1960. Two descents were later made by unmanned vehicles, and most recently in 2012, an expedition was made by James Cameron—yes, that James Cameron, as in the filmmaker behind movies like “Titanic” and “Avatar.”

With only four descents made to this day to that part of the ocean, it’s no surprise the ocean remains a mystery to us. We do know that some basic life forms somehow exist down there, despite the freezing temperatures and intense pressure (8 tons per square inch, the equivalent of being crushed by 50 jumbo jets). Mud samples and observations by the explorers have discovered more than 200 different microorganisms, plus everything from giant crustaceans and sea cucumbers to enormous amoebas (4-inch, single-celled organisms) and jellyfish.

Some truly bizarre-looking creatures are also able to thrive in the midnight zone, the deepest, darkest ocean light zone (in which the Mariana Trench resides). Among them is the anglerfish, a bony fish that appears to have a built-in fishing rod attached to its head that pulses with glowing bacteria. This serves as a lure to attract prey and mates.

Joining this curious creature in the midnight zone is the vampire squid, which also uses bioluminescence to survive in this dark abyss. When threatened, it flails around frantically and ejects bioluminescent mucus containing orbs of blue light to confuse its predators. Check out our infographic on bioluminescence to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon.

The possibilities of what else exists at these depths are endless, but until we dedicate more resources to exploring our deep seas, we’ll never know the secrets hidden within our own planet.

James Cameron Inspires Future Generations of Explorers in Washington, DC!

You don’t have to go to space to find great exploration horizons!

Yesterday, ocean pioneer and Academy-Award winning filmmaker, James Cameron, and his submersible, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, arrived in Washington, DC!

It was the fifth stop on the DeepSea America Tour, a nation-wide trek to bring the sub to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts where it will be studied by engineering students who are building the next generation of submersible research vessels!

In Washington, the tour made two stops: first, on Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of ocean research and exploration; and second, at an outdoor event for local school children. At the second event, students were invited to come see the vessel and learn more about the ocean, exploration and science. National Aquarium was honored to be asked by Cameron and his foundation to support these DC outreach efforts. Our CEO, John Racanelli, and education team were delighted to be on-site  participating in yesterday’s educational program!

Here at the Aquarium, one of the most important aspects of living our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures is engaging the community and our youth through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education topics!

We have a variety of learning programs including internships, on-site field trips, teacher workshops, after-school programs and more that provide local students the hands-on experience and knowledge they need to become the next generation of ocean explorers!

Click here to learn more about how National Aquarium is taking education beyond the classroom!


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