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At Last We Can Explore The Ocean Bottom


By James Donahue


Jules Verne dreamed of it in his famous novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, but other than Alvin, the small research vessel put into service some 40 years ago and the bathyscaphe Trieste, the concept of deep sea exploration has been almost ignored.


Now, with France, Russia and Japan operating deep sea research vessels, and China building one, the U.S. has announced plans to build a ship that will dive to 21,000 feet.


When completed in 2008, the new, yet unnamed ship will give scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution the ability to drop to 99 percent of the ocean floor. Only the dark regions of the mysterious 36,000-foot deep Mariana Trench, in the Pacific, will remain inaccessible.


The new submersible will allow us to reach “not for the stars but for the depths,” said Woods Hole president Robert Gagosian during a recent briefing.


Indeed, it has been said that because of the money spent on our space program, we know more about the moon, Mars and the other planets of our solar system than we do about the bottom of our great oceans.


The oceans cover about 70 percent of the planet’s surface. They are teeming with marine life, much of which we know little about.


The $21.6 million craft is being financed by the institution and the National Science Foundation.


Why the sudden new interest in exploring the oceans by so many nations? Think of what is happening on our planet. We are running out of natural resources, including food and energy. It is obvious that researchers are now looking to the oceans to fill in some of these important gaps.


For example, another remotely operated vessel is in the works at Woods Hole to explore those deep trenches and study the methane hydrate collected there as a possible energy source.