Ocean Exploration Overview

photo of Dr. Ballard Immersion Presents founder and chief scientist Dr. Robert Ballard once said, “Half of my life is exploring, and the other half is building tools to do it better the next time.” As part of Immersion Presents Ocean Exploration, you will learn about Dr. Ballard’s newest tools and explorations. You will also get a chance to build your own tools and explore the area where you live.

Ocean Exploration will take you on a journey through the past, present, and future of ocean exploration. First you will learn about the fascinating history of ocean exploration. Then you will study three recent ocean expeditions. All three expeditions took place in 2008. They are snapshots from a year in the life of Dr. Ballard and his partners.

photo of Atalanta launch The first featured expedition was to the Grand Banks. The Grand Banks are a series of flat, shallow underwater landforms southeast of Newfoundland. They were once among the world’s richest cod fishing grounds. But after thriving for 500 years, the Grand Banks cod fishery crashed in the 1990s. It has not yet recovered. Dr. Dwight Coleman from the Institute for Exploration (IFE) worked with American and Canadian partners to explore the Grand Banks and learn more about the fishery collapse. They used a brand-new autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) called Atalanta during the expedition. They also used a sidescan sonar system, a sub-bottom profiler, and IFE’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hylas. All of these tools helped the scientists map the sea floor and look for fishing boats and other shipwrecks.

photo of Cornelia B. Windiate wheel The second featured expedition was to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Scientists from the sanctuary worked with IFE and other partners on several projects in the summer of 2008. University of Michigan researchers used AUVs to look for shipwrecks within and beyond the current boundaries of the sanctuary. Later, technical divers explored a few deep-water wrecks in person. One of these wrecks, the Kyle Spangler, was found by an amateur diver. He kept the location of the wreck a secret for five years until he and NOAA were able to study and document the site in detail. Another group of scientists spent 10 days studying sinkholes at the bottom of Lake Huron. A series of live broadcasts from Thunder Bay shared results from all of these projects with the Immersion community.

sidescan sonar image of shipwreck in Black Sea The third featured expedition was to the Black Sea. Co-chief scientist Katy Croff from IFE worked with American and Ukrainian partners during this expedition. The group was looking for the wreck of the Armenia and other shipwrecks near the Ukrainian coast. The Armenia was a Soviet hospital ship that was sunk during World War II. Of the more than 5,000 people on board the ship, fewer than 10 survived the sinking. Scientists used IFE’s new sidescan sonar system Diana and the ROV Hylas to search the sea floor. These tools helped the group discover more than a dozen shipwreck sites.

While all of these expeditions were going on, Dr. Ballard and his team were working hard to finalize plans for the Inner Space Center (ISC). Located at the University of Rhode Island, the ISC is a part of the future of ocean exploration. It will be the first ever control center for inner space—the world beneath the ocean surface. The ISC will receive data from research ships and will transmit the data to scientists across the globe. Working through the ISC, scientists on shore will be able to communicate with crews at sea in real time.

photo of Okeanos Explorer sign One of the most important roles of the ISC will be to serve as the hub for the new NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer. Commissioned in August 2008, the Okeanos Explorer is set to be “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration.” It is the only federal ship whose main mission is to explore the ocean. After going through a series of field tests to make sure all of its systems are working, it will spend more than 200 days a year at sea. Immersion Presents and the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research will report on new discoveries as the ship makes them. Since 95 percent of the ocean is still unexplored, there should be a lot to report!

You are invited to join the Ocean Exploration team and immerse yourself in ocean exploration history as it happens. Search for shipwrecks, build a model AUV, and explore your local environment in the Ocean Exploration Adventure Series. Read mission logs, browse photos, and play interactive games on the Immersion Web site. And be sure to tune in for a week of live broadcasts hosted by Dr. Ballard and his team from April 20–24, 2009. During the broadcasts, you will hear updates on this year’s expeditions, the Inner Space Center, and the Okeanos Explorer. You will also have a chance to ask questions and get them answered live. So what are you waiting for? Come on board and get ready to set sail with Immersion Presents Ocean Exploration!

Immersion Program: 
JASON Learning: A Partnership of Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic