Here on Planet Earth, the ocean, or what's under the surface is the final frontier. We actually know more about outer space than we do about our ocean depths.
The Ocean Exploration Trust is trying to make a real dent in all that uncharted ocean territory.
Their Nautilus Expedition set sail from San Pedro last week for the Channel Islands where it will be mapping and characterizing unknown waters for the month of July.
Nicole Raineault is leading up the expedition. She spoke with Take Two's A Martinez from the Nautilus to tell us all about their mission, and what makes the waters off of Santa Barbara so fascinating to study.
Santa Barbara's ancient shorelines
There are ancient shorelines (submerged below the sea) that we're able to access with our gear which are mapping systems.... They look different than the shorelines that you and I walk on on the coastline. A lot of times they become partially, or entirely lithified – that means made into rock – so, you can see shelves and fragments of old organisms. But we can also see features like caves. In fact it's pretty incredible to see the caves above water and then map, and eventually put the remotely operated vehicles with video cameras on caves that are just below the surface of the water, see the similarities and then note the differences.
The Channel Island's fertile waters
We've discovered new species here. We've been amazed by the amount of biodiversity. It's an upwelling area so that means there's lots of nutrients in the water that bring a lot of organisms to the area. As well as a geologically very exciting area because of the sea level change that's happened through tens of thousands of years. And also tectonics which have causes the islands and the whole area to either uplift (become higher out of the water), or subside (sink lower into the seas).
The latest in oceanographic technology
We have a multi-beam eco-sounder on the exploration vessel Nautilus and that's capable of mapping ocean depths from about 50 to 6,000 meters– so most of the ocean. When we want to map that shallower bit, especially because of the mission being such a shallow water oriented mission, we brought out new technology which is is an autonomous surface vessel. This is a remote controlled boat that we set on a mission to map areas that are about from 150 meters all the way to the coastline. So, we're able to get complete coverage of the sea floor and understand with very good detail, what features there are in these area.
We also have remotely operated vehicles equipped with HD videocameras, an arm so that we can take samples, and other oceanographic equipment like salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen sensors. We also have capability and will be using the mapping systems that are on the robot itself to map even higher resolution down to a centimeter level of detail of some of the features we find.
Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.