The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: WHOI

Do Humans Have a Future in Deep Sea Exploration? My Newest Story in The New York Times Story Poses the Question.

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Terry Kerby, the head of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory, peers through the porthole of a Pisces V research submarine. Photo: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times. 

This past Spring, I was honored to spend some time with a most remarkable oceanographer. Terry Kerby is the director of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory. The admiral of HURL’s Pisces deep-sea submersible program, Kerby is arguably the most experienced submariner the face of the earth. The discoveries he and his crew have made with the help of the of bug-eyed, mantis-armed Pisces submarines, have re-written the very history of World War II and changed our very understanding of the life on earth. Yet the future of Kerby’s operation is uncertain, thanks to budget cuts – and robots.

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Woods Hole’s Deepsea Challenger Scorched in Connecticut Truck Fire

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Photo: Sean D. Elliot/AP.

While on her way south to Baltimore where she was to be shipped to Australia (on loan), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) submarine, Deepsea Challenger, was damaged after the truck toting her down Interstate 95 caught fire.

Fortunately, the blaze doesn’t appear to have claimed the entire sub, which happens to be the deepest-diving machine on this big blue marble.

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The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Just Received a $5 Million Grant to Expand Its Robotics Research Program

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Photo: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Massachusetts state officials gathered on Friday to announce that a $5 million dollar grant will be awarded to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) so that they may expand their underwater robotics research program, which began with the clunky bathyscaphe Trieste in 1956 and the HOV (human-occupied vehicle) Alvin, whose legendary research began over 50 years ago and is still a proud and active member of the WHOI fleet.

Unlike NASA’s outer space research program, The United States’ oceanographic research institutions don’t receive a tremendous amount of funding. This is a big feat for Woods Hole, and a tremendous progress into the future of ocean research. More funding like this and it’s anyone’s guess what’s next, but surely we’ll begin to see the colossally unexplored ninety-some-odd percent of the seas in unprecedented fashion.

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Behold, The Weird, Deep-Sea-Dwelling Transparent Sea Cucumber

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A transparent sea cucumber (Enypniastes sp.) discovered over a mile and a half beneath the sea in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Laurence Madin, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/CMarZ, Census of Marine Life

This devilish-looking creature was discovered by researchers for the Census of Marine Life in the Gulf of Mexico at a depth of 2,750 meters (9,022 feet) — that’s over a mile and a half deep. Unlike its crawling cousins, the transparent sea cucumber swims along the seabed at a grueling 2 centimeters per minute, feeding its way through the depths as it sifts out detritus, and because it’s transparent, you can even watch it digest — that is, if you ever make it a mile and a half deep into the Gulf of Mexico.

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The Antikythera Mechanism — A 2,000-Year-Old Computer — May Be Older Than We Thought

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The “Antikythera Mechanism” (Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press)

In 1901, sponge divers off the Greek island of Crete discovered Antikythera, a two-thousand-year-old shipwreck (named not for the ship but the harbor off which it was discovered). Among its debris was a piece vaguely labeled the Antikythera mechanism, a sort of analog computer which functioned as a celestial calculator, and predated all similar technology known to historians by over 1,000 years. Originally, it had been dated to 87 B.C., but more recent examination of the lettering on the back of the device, in coordination with a conclusion that the calendar of the device began in 205 B.C., suggest it may be a century older than previously thought.

Caked in corrosion, the exact purpose of the device was not understood until a 2006 high-resolution x-ray tomography was produced, depicting what is now considered to be one of the oldest and most invaluable insights into ancient Greek technology. But who built it?

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Fukushima: A Woods Hole Marine Chemist Explains Why the Eastern Pacific Is No More Radioactive Now Than It Was 50 Years Ago

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Above: Satellite measurements (displaying ocean temperatures and cesium-134 levels based on radioactivity per second) between July 28th and August 4th help show where radionuclides (or atomic species with radioactive elements) from Fukushima are transported. (Image: WHOI)

Radioactive waters carried across the north Pacific by the Kuroshio Current from along the Pacific Coast of the United States, were predicted to make U.S. landfall this year. While mainstream media showered the public, conjuring doom and gloom through imagery of glow-in-the-dark three-eyed fish, only a few scientists have actually been taking measurements of the radioactive isotopes (nuclides) which have been thumb-printed and traced from Fukushima–namely, cesium-134.

One such scientist is Dr. Ken Buesseler, a Senior Scientist of Marine and Geo Chemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. In the absence of government funding, he has taken it upon himself, along with colleagues and volunteers from research scientists, commercial fishermen, and even the general public, to take samples and measurements of one isolated isotope which can be directly attributed to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant disaster of 2011. His findings? We’ve got nothing to worry about – no more than normal, that is.

If you thought your tuna was just becoming radioactive because of a nuclear meltdown that occurred 3 and a half years ago, the fish you, your parents or your grandparents have been consuming for the past 50 years has all been far more contaminated. Residual cesium-137, left over from The United States Military’s weapon testing during the 1960s, still shows in much higher traces.

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The U.S. Military’s Baker Test, Bikini Atoll, 1946. Many more such tests would follow. Image: Wikipedia.

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Hydrothermal Vents, the Improbable Life Therein, and the Birth of Deep Sea Mining

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(Photo: WHOI via California Sundays)

Hydrothermal vents are cracks in the seafloor where water seeps into the earth’s crust and reacts with magma before the intense heat sends it back up through the ocean floor and into the water column, only then it’s full of chemicals and minerals. And where there are minerals, you can bet there’s a business willing to mine for them, even if they’re in the deepest, darkest places, and apart from a few resilient and mysterious species like tube worms, eye-less shrimp and mussels, the most inhospitable to life.

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Here Are a Few More (Full Frame) Pictures from the 2,200-Year-Old Antikythera Wreck off Greece

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Above: an amphora has taken on a whole new life of its own. Makes you wonder whether it should stay. (Photo: Brett Seymore/Argo/Wetpixel)

The Antikythera wreck site, dated to 60-70 BC, was first uncovered by sponge divers in 1900, and would go on to yield the single greatest collection of Greek antiquities in history. It’s believed the ship was on its way to Rome from Asia Minor with its luxury cargo, which included marble statues, jewelry, furniture, glassware and much more which is yet to be found.

Excavations began soon thereafter, but the death of one archaeologist and the paralysis of two others (due to diving complications) halted the project until this past fall. Here are a few of Wetpixel photographer Brett Seymour’s select images from a more recent expedition to the site, “Return to Antikythera,” with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) Exosuit.

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(Photo: Brett Seymore/Argo/Wetpixel)

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