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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
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
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.
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