"Atlas of the Ocean"
The latest National Geographic Radio Expedition explores a mysterious realm that remains largely unknown -- the ocean. A team of researchers, led by Sylvia Earle, set out this summer to explore parts of the Gulf of Mexico more thoroughly than anyone has before.
The venture is part of a larger National Geographic mission, now in its fourth year, called Sustainable Seas. The project seeks to survey as much as possible of the U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries.
Oceans are so little known that marine scientists are still collecting what they call basic data. Earle's team used a one-person mini-submarine called Deepworker to dive throughout the marine sanctuaries in the Gulf of Mexico and examine firsthand the seascape and the life forms living there. At sites along the Yucatan Peninsula, around the northern Gulf and at the west Florida continental shelf, Earle made numerous dives to look for signs of manmade damage and pollution. But even more basic than that, she was looking to see what the ocean was hiding hundreds of feet below the surface.
"So little of the ocean has been seen it's like the early days of exploring the American West," says Earle.
On dives that often last five or six hours and take Earle to depths of 2,000 feet, she takes notes and video at each site: what the sea bottom looks like, if there are beds of sea grass or coral, what kind of animals are there -- and what they're up to.
Such data establishes a solid reference point against which changes can be measured over time.
"People will come back, whether it's next year, or five years, or 50 years and say, 'In the year 2001, here is what it was like; now, here are changes that we can gauge, based on that baseline.' "
Listen to Alex Chadwick's 1999 expedition, Diving with Deepworker
Visit National Geographic's Sustainable Seas Web site
Learn more about the ocean -- and the Sustainable Seas expedition -- at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Ocean Explorer site
Learn about NASA's ocean exploration program and see satellite images at its Oceanography site
Learn more about the Deepworker submarine
Visit the National Marine Sanctuaries site