Bruce Strickrott, Expedition to the Deep Slope
An octopod gets curious about the port manipulator arm of ALVIN, a deep ocean research submersible during the first systematic exploration of hydrocarbon-seep communities along the Deep Slope of the Gulf of Mexico. Federal funding for ocean exploration is tough to get.
Deep space and the deep sea have a few things in common: they’re dark, they’re cold, and they’re fairly inhospitable to human life. But the US spends a LOT more money exploring space than it does the ocean. About one hundred of the nation’s leading ocean explorers are meeting Friday and Saturday at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach as part of a high-profile effort to change that.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration got just around $24 million in the most recent fiscal year for ocean exploration. NASA’s budget for space exploration topped out around $3.8 billion: about 150 times more money. And NOAA funding is always on shaky ground. In the last year, Congress again kicked around the idea of killing off the National Undersea Research Program.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is co-sponsoring this weekend’s meeting with NOAA, several foundations, and Google. The meeting’s executive chair is Marcia McNutt, a marine geophysicist who until recently ran the US Geological Survey. Government scientists, policymakers, and people from the private sector will discuss exploration priorities. At the end, they plan to produce the first national ocean exploration plan, which they will present to President Obama.
Even though Friday and Saturday sessions are invitation-only, NOAA’s streaming the meeting online. The Aquarium of the Pacific is making Sunday Explorer’s Day. At the tropical reef habitat, scientists will demonstrate remote operated vehicles. And several ocean explorers will be presenting their work and chatting with the public. Among them will be Sylvia Earle, who led the first team of women aquanauts during the Tektite Project.
It's a packed schedule on Sunday, revolving around the aquarium’s theater, which will show live feeds from ongoing ocean explorations and host presentations throughout the day. For kids, there’s a tie-in with the British television series Octonauts, a cartoon following eight animal explorers that act like people and operate out of an undersea octopod. I might have to start watching!
There’s going to be a sneak peek of the next Octonauts special, The Octonauts and the Mariana Trench Adventure…and since the show aims to be scientifically accurate about the marine life the Octonauts encounter, it makes sense that NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research Chief Scientist Steve Hammond and Octonauts head writer Stephanie Simpson will talk about it afterward. Other Octonaut events happen throughout the day, but the sneak peek of the new stuff happens in the theater at 1:00 pm.