NOAA 2000-522
Contact: Jana Goldman


More than 500 years after Columbus sailed across the sea on a pivotal mission of exploration, scientists are submerging thousands of feet beneath the sea in the Gulf of Mexico to explore a new world rich in biological, chemical, geological and energy riches. The fleet for this voyage consists of the research vessel Atlantis and the deep submergence vessel Alvin, the nation's most prolific and deepest diving research submersible - with 3,623 dives to its credit.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the primary sponsor of the mission through its National Undersea Research Program. Other dives and support for the science is coming from the Minerals Management Service, the National Environmental Technology Lab, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and NOAA's National Ocean Service. The DSV Alvin and its mother ship, the R/V Atlantis, are operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Departing from Galveston, Texas, October 16 and ending in Key West, Fla., on October 31, the expedition will take a diverse group of scientists on a total of 14 dives.

"Like Columbus, these explorers will voyage to new lands in search of new riches. They will go deeper than anyone has ever gone before in the Gulf, to places no one has ever seen to build a foundation for conservation as they explore and discover," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. "Expeditions like this one are helping us build a strong foundation for my commitment to ocean exploration, preservation and education."

The scientists' investigations will span topics from gas hydrates and microbiology to intense storms in the deep ocean. The results of their discoveries will generate important data, lay the groundwork for tapping new energy resources and may also yield clues about the planet's past geology. New species may also be discovered.

"What is extraordinary about this mission, besides the actual exploration, is the coordination between the many government, academic and industry partners," said Andrew Shephard, expedition coordinator and associate director NURC/UNCW. NURC/UNCW put the multi-disciplinary expedition together, assembling world class scientists to lead Alvin's first visit to the Gulf since 1992. The science team includes scientists from universities from throughout the southeast U.S., including Texas A&M University, Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina and The College of William & Mary.

One of the key areas of interest to scientists is the staggering potential for gas hydrates reserves beneath the sea. Gas hydrates are hydrocarbon molecules, such as methane, trapped in ice. "Over half of the fossil carbon on the planet is locked up in gas hydrate deposits on the continental margins," said Ian R. MacDonald, research scientist
going on the voyage for Texas A&M's Geochemical and Environmental Research Group. "The current expedition will look at the rich marine life found at such depths and will contribute to efforts to chart a new strategy for petroleum exploration in deep waters."

"This deep sea expedition exemplifies NOAA's and UNCW's commitment to understanding the world's oceans," said Shephard. "The oceans remain virtually untapped. This is a rare opportunity to unravel the mysteries of the ocean while inspiring new developments with far-reaching benefits."

For additional information:
UNCW Web site:
NOAA Web site:
WHOI Web site:
Expedition Web site: - photos available on this site

Video available:
- Underwater footage of DSV Alvin at work on the seafloor;
- Footage of RV Atlantis;
- DSV Alvin deployment and retrieval
Photos available at expedition Web site: