Scientists and educators from NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program embarked on a nine-day mission to the world’s only undersea scientific facility on Sept. 17.
While living underwater in the Aquarius ocean laboratory, scientists will investigate changes to corals and marine life in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and broadcast their activities in real time to students and general audiences via the OceansLive.org education Web portal.
During the mission, dubbed “Aquarius 2007: If Reefs Could Talk,” scientists will conduct research mainly on sponge biology and ecology and long-term monitoring of coral and fish species.
Mission results will be compared with previously collected data, going back to 1994, to assess change on the reef, which may be due to anthropogenic climate change and associated natural variability, as well as human contributions in the form of pollution. The mission will use advanced technology for underwater research combined with communications to create and broadcast web-based educational programming.
“Six aquanauts will be living and working in a state-of-the-art undersea facility for an extended time to test new equipment, learn new things about what makes reefs healthy, and update long-term data to measure what’s happening to the reef ecosystem in the Florida Keys,” said Steve Gittings, national science coordinator for the National Marine Sanctuary Program and lead scientist for the mission. “The findings will help us all better protect our fragile ecosystems for future generations.”
Located nine miles southeast of Key Largo, Fla., in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Aquarius lies 60 feet below the surface at the base of Conch Reef. The undersea research station is nine feet in diameter, 43 feet long, and can support diving to depths of 120 feet. The six aquanauts will live in Aquarius for nine days supported by a shore-based crew on watch around the clock. Real-time video, audio, and Internet feeds will provide high-resolution communications and an exciting virtual experience for the public, educators, and students.
Aquarius is owned by NOAA, administered through NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program, and operated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s National Undersea Research Center.
“We are thrilled to join forces with the National Marine Sanctuary Program during this exciting mission to better understand and assess change on our threatened coral reefs and to bring the wonders of underwater living and science to students through the Web,” said Ellen Prager, chief scientist for Aquarius Reef Base.
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