Explorer Ballard to Lead Major Ocean Expedition, March 3-9

Posted on
Explorer Ballard to Lead Major Ocean Expedition to Unlock Undersea Secrets of the Gulf of Mexico

Scientists, kids and the general public participate via Telepresence

February 20, 2007 — Galveston, TX — From March 3–9, 2007, renowned ocean explorer Dr. Robert Ballard and an interdisciplinary team of scientists will explore the fascinating undersea landscape of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). One of the 13 U.S. national marine sanctuaries, the FGBNMS is located approximately 115 miles off the Texas/Louisiana coast. Named for its colorful corals and sponges, the sanctuary was targeted for exploration because of its unique geology and biology. Its geological history also makes it a viable location to search for evidence of early human habitation that could predate current evidence of North America’s first inhabitants.

This expedition represents a unique collaboration between the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Institute for Exploration (IFE), Immersion Presents, the University of Rhode Island and the U.S. Navy. During the week-long expedition, a team of geologists, biologists and marine archaeologists will use two ships, a nuclear-powered research submarine, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and scuba divers to explore coral reefs, brine seeps, mud volcanoes and ancient shorelines.

“This will be an important and exciting expedition to a little known area in the Gulf with unique biological and geological features—an area that we hope will reveal details about human habitation on ancient shorelines thousands of years ago when sea level was much lower due to the ice age,” said Ballard, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration.

“We have been working with the Institute for Exploration and the Navy in this effort since 1998 in the Northeast,” said Dr. Kevin McBride, director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (MPMRC). “This expedition will enhance our understanding of the patterns of ancient Native settlements in coastal regions of the Americas.” Data and artifacts collected during the expedition will be analyzed in the MPMRC’s archaeology labs.

Researchers will also explore the physical connections that provide protective cover for animals traveling between individual geologic features. “This is a rare opportunity to explore the system of ‘hidden highways’ that connects the Flower Garden Banks ecosystem with other reefs and banks in the area,” stated George Schmahl, superintendent of the FGBNMS.

“We are fortunate to be able to explore these areas using state of the art scientific equipment, and to share these experiences with people in real time,” Schmahl added.

Deep-water exploration of the FGBNMS will be made possible by the U.S. Navy’s NR-1—the nation’s only nuclear-powered submarine dedicated to underwater research. Supported by the 238-foot SSV Carolyn Chouest, the NR-1 carries video cameras, sample-collection equipment and tools to map the sea floor.

A high-definition camera and sensors on IFE’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Argus—a sled-like device that will be towed behind the Carolyn Chouest—will provide researchers with additional images and information about the sanctuary’s habitats and marine life.

The expedition team will employ state-of-the-art “telepresence” technology to enable students, educators, scientists and the general public back on shore to follow the Secrets of the Gulf expedition 24/7 in real-time. Principal Investigators Ballard and McBride will use this same telepresence technology to lead the expedition from a remote science console based at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration.

Ballard also will host a series of live broadcasts produced by Immersion Presents and distributed via satellite, Internet2 and the commodity Internet. The broadcasts, which are part of a larger interdisciplinary science curriculum entitled Secrets of the Gulf, will take place daily from March 4–9, 2007, at 11 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm EST. Immersion Presents is partnering with a network of 30 Immersion Sites and 51 Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation to implement the Secrets of the Gulf program with upper elementary and middle school students. Tune into www.immersionpresents.org to watch the broadcasts and follow the expedition online. The broadcasts can also be viewed at www.oceanslive.org.

Additional expedition partners and sponsors include the NOAA Office of Education, Devon Energy Corporation, Dominion, the Dr. Scholl Foundation, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, The Public Archaeology Laboratory, the University of Connecticut, the University of Rhode Island, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Justice Programs, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the U.S. Department of Energy.


Note to editors:

A press briefing, with access to the ship and associated research vehicles, will be held dockside in Galveston, Texas on March 1, 2007 at 2:00 pm CST prior to the research vessel’s departure. Due to security requirements, you must contact Shelley Dupuy at cell # 979-229-2054 if you plan to attend the press conference; or LT James Krohne at cell # 757-328-0830 if you plan to participate in the press conference by telephone.