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Ocean and Coastal Exploration

Explore and discover the unknown regions of the oceans.

Exploring the oceans has been an important human goal for centuries. Yet, while we have spent much of our history learning about what lies at the ocean's surface, we still know relatively little about what lies below. In just the past 50 years, we have discovered that the greatest mountain chains and canyons on Earth exist beneath the sea. Only 20 years ago, we discovered totally new chemosynthetic life forms that exist around deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Considered by some to be one of the most significant biological discoveries in the latter half of this century, these organisms derive energy from chemicals not the sun, revolutionizing theories of photosynthesis as the basis of all life. These organisms have adapted to living in a highly pressurized, sunless, super-heated environment, and may provide insight into our understanding of the origins of life on Earth and other planets.

Such discoveries demonstrate that the deep ocean remains the last great frontier of our planet for exploration and discovery. Although no one can predict what exploration will yield, exploration and research have led to discoveries that have changed our lives fundamentally and have provided knowledge critical to sustainably managing our natural resources.

Ongoing Concerns

  • There is a lack of information about many ocean ecosystems, including the ocean's deepest regions, affecting our ability to manage them and to develop new uses and potential products.
    Only four manned submersibles in the world, none of them operated by the U.S., are capable of descending to half the ocean's maximum depth. The deepest-diving U.S. manned submersible currently operating (the ALVIN) can reach only an estimated 63% of the ocean floor.
  • Not enough effort is made to bring the excitement of ocean exploration truly the last frontier on Earth to the public and to popular media.

Recommendations

  • Establish a national strategy to expand exploration of the oceans, including more in-kind support by federal agencies for private ocean exploration initiatives.
  • Support exploratory research in geographic areas, such as the deep-sea vent sites, and topical areas, such as undiscovered deep-sea species.
  • Invest in the development of cutting-edge technologies and vehicles to observe and explore the oceans from the surface to the seafloor.
  • Develop ways to explore the oceans remotely, including new observatories and sensors and innovative uses of technologies.

For more information

http://www.nurp.noaa.gov
http://www.nationalacademies.org/nrc
http://www.whoi.edu/

On Earth Day 1999, private and federal partners launched the historic Sustainable Seas Expedition to explore and map the nation's 12 National Marine Sanctuaries, providing the first comprehensive study of some of the organisms and physical characteristics in these areas.

http://www.sustainableseas.noaa.gov