Monday, October 11, 2010

Undersea Voyager Project: seeking ocean discoveries in Southern California's island playground

A precocious child at the age of, let's say, ten has his or her first encounter with the wonders of the sea, perhaps at a local aquarium; or a vacation at the beach, wandering about the tidepools; or simply by watching an underwater wildlife documentary. Suddenly a spark is ignited and a future marine scientist and explorer is born.

That spark becomes a fire that continues to burn to adulthood and now the freshly-minted ocean explorer enters the world of academia or corporate research in search of a living. And that's when things can change. The bureaucracy and politics of these new working environments - where papers must be regularly written, departments must have their spotlight of attention, or private companies must meet a corporate agenda - take the budding scientist further and further away from that original inspiration, that sense of pure research and exploration.

The Undersea Voyager Project (UVP), headed by Scott Cassell, has a mission to bring that original sense of exploration back to the marine scientist. Providing submersible platforms for research and study, UVP has a long-term goal of circumnavigating the world through the ocean's most vibrant depths, from near surface to 1,000 feet. It's an alternative approach in that scientists can make use of UVP with one caveat: the resulting data is open for the world to benefit from. Institutions may be reluctant to get on board with such a heretic approach, but scientists from a wide variety of marine fields have expressed interest; an interest to reconnect with that first motivating spark once again.

Through the month of October, the Undersea Voyager Project is operating at Catalina Island in Southern California. Working with the Antipodes, a five-passenger submersible owned by Seattle-based Oceangate, Cassell has been plumbing the depths of this local California island attraction, discovering wreckage from Cold War era listening stations to evidence of never-before-seen underwater landslides.

I had the opportunity to join the UVP and Oceangate team this past weekend to film the Antipodes underwater as it ran through some checkout dives and will be joining them again shortly to film Scott for a German television program and take more promotional video. There is a list of scientists and educators that plan to participate while the Antipodes is available through this month, hoping to discover what secrets might be lying just a few hundred feet below in the waters off bustling Southern California.

There are discoveries waiting to be made and secrets to be uncovered. But maybe the greatest discovery or secret is the moment when a researcher can once again connect with those youthful impulses that drove him or her to be an ocean explorer in the first place.

Visit the Undersea Voyager Project website.
Visit the Oceangate

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