NOAA 2000-527
Contact: Maureen O'Leary


A blue octopus, abyssal storms, and confirmation of frozen methane gas hydrate deposits – a promising new energy source trapped in ice, are some of the preliminary findings of an exploration of the Gulf of Mexico by America's deepest-diving human-occupied submersible, Alvin. This expedition, called for by President Clinton on June 12, 2000, ushers in a new era of ocean exploration and marks the beginning of renewed national efforts to explore the oceans the same way we have explored outer space.

The preliminary findings of the two-week cruise were presented during a press conference today in Key West, Fla.

"Ocean exploration and expeditions like this one are helping unravel the mysteries of the ocean. The findings from this mission will inspire new developments with far-reaching benefits," said D. James Baker, NOAA administrator.

In daily journal entries posted on a Web site, scientists described the many exotic life forms that were encountered thousands of feet beneath the surface, including a squid with ten-foot-long tentacles, 200-year-old giant tube worms, seep sharks, a blue octopus, densely packed deep-sea mussel beds, and mysterious cones and "gray puff-balls" - thought to be colonies of deep dwelling bacteria.

"Three dozen scientists and observers have just completed a very productive
and exciting mission. The partnerships built for this mission is how ocean exploration should be done. The only way to reach these remote frontiers is to create a national effort," said Alvin Expedition coordinator Andy Shepard.

Their research also provided further evidence of violent undersea storms. These deep-sea "weather patterns" result from strong currents that arise suddenly and sweep along the base of the escarpment. They have enough power to threaten energy production platforms in deep water.

Discoveries from the mission are also expected to lead to a better understanding of energy resources in the form of frozen methane gas hydrate deposits, and of the Gulf's unexplored deep ecosystems, especially around bubbling oil and gas "seeps" in the ocean floor. We have answered a few questions and asked a whole lot more. This era of ocean exploration comes at a time when the keys to the past and the energy
supplies for the future may indeed lie in the deeper parts of the ocean," said Dr. Ian Mac Donald, Alvin Exploration chief scientist."

The expedition, which departed from Galveston, Texas on Oct. 16, is Alvin's first to the Gulf in eight years. With this trip, Alvin has made 3,637 dives since it was launched in 1964. The submersible spent 100 hours underwater carrying 42 people, three at a time, on dives ranging from 1,000-3,300 meters in depth (approx. 3,000 - 10,000 ft).

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sponsored the expedition through its National Undersea Research Program Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Other organization's participating in the expedition include Texas A & M University, Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina, College of William and Mary, Minerals Management Service; National Environmental Technology Lab, and the National Ocean Service. DSV Alvin and its mothership R/V Atlantis are operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Alvin Expedition Coordinator, Andy Shepard from UNCW and Alvin Expedition Chief Scientist, Dr. Ian MacDonald of TAMU are available for interviews.

Video highlights of the mission, including footage of sea creatures and ecosystems thriving in total darkness thousands of feet beneath the surface, is available. Photos are on the expedition Web site.

Expedition Web site:
UNCW Web site:
NOAA Web site:
WHOI Web site: