WILMINGTON, NC -- The last two weeks of October, a team of scientists will send the Deep Submergence Vehicle Alvin on 14 research dives to the depths of the Gulf of Mexico on a mission that may unlock clues to new energy resources. The scientists' investigations will span subjects ranging from gas hydrates and microbiology to intense storms in the deep ocean. The results of their discoveries will generate important scientific data, and may also yield clues about the planet's past geology; help explain today's global climate patterns; and lay the groundwork for tapping future energy resources, previously unknown or out of reach.
Primary sponsor for the mission is NOAA's National Undersea Research Program (NURP). The expedition was organized by the program's regional undersea research center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW). Other support for dives and science costs are coming from the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the National Environmental Technology Lab (NETL), the Department of Energy (DOE), and NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS). Alvin and its support vessel Atlantis are operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
Departing from Galveston, Texas, October 16 and ending in Key West, Florida, on October 31, the expedition will take a diverse group of scientists to the edge of the Gulf, on a total of 14 dives. "Like Columbus, they 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," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.
One of the key areas of interest to scientists is the staggering potential for hydrocarbon reserves beneath the sea. "Over half of the fossil carbon on the planet is locked up in gas hydrate deposits on the continental margins," said Ian R. MacDonald, a research scientist going on the voyage for Texas A&M University's Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG). He added, "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."
"What is extraordinary about this mission, besides the actual exploration, is the coordination between the many government, academic and industry partners," said Andrew Shepard, expedition coordinator and associate director of 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 represents universities from all over the Southeast US, including Texas A&M University (TAMU), Louisiana State University (LSU), University of South Carolina (USC) and William & Mary University (WMU).
"This deep sea expedition exemplifies NOAA's and UNCW's commitment to exploring and understanding the world's oceans," said UNCW's 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."
Learn more about the expedition at the project web site, www.ecology.com (click on Gulf Project). In addition to descriptions of project objectives, an underwater photo gallery and links to related educational material, the scientists will post a daily log with pictures and video clips, and answer questions about the mission.
For additional information: Expedition website: http://www.ecology.com/
UNC Wilmington website: http://www.uncwil.edu/nurc/
NOAA website: http://www.nurp.noaa.gov/
WHOI website: http://www.whoi.edu/home/
Minerals Management Service: http://www.mms.gov/
National Environmental Technology Lab: http://www.netl.doe.gov/
NOAA's National Ocean Service: http://www.nos.noaa.gov/
Materials provided by University Of North Carolina At Wilmington. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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