Ocean Expeditions Anchor in Charleston
By: LYNNE LANGLEY Of The Post and Courier Staff
Originally Published on: 10/02/01
Page: A 1

Subheadline: Research teams report `incredible discoveries'

Photo Information: WADE SPEES/STAFF Don Liberatore, a pilot of the Johnson-Sea-Link 1, talks to students from a dozen Lowcountry schools Monday about the deep sea expeditions that ended in Charleston.

WADE SPEES/STAFF Lowcountry students inspect the Alvin submersible Monday aboard the Atlantis in Charleston.

     Two expeditions that are key parts of this nation's new era of ocean exploration met Monday in Charleston to end their research voyages and to celebrate discoveries.
The ocean covers 78 percent of the planet yet only 5 percent of it has been explored. That small percentage hints at the wealth of medicine, clean fuel, other material and knowledge that the sea may provide, according to scientists and officials who hailed the successful completion of Atlantic deep-sea missions.
     "We know more about the back of the moon than about trenches in the Atlantic," U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said after more than an hour of official ceremonies.
"It's a great adventure," Bodman said, comparing the moment to Lewis and Clark's return to St. Louis after the first trek to the west coast.
     The Deep East and Islands in the Stream expeditions, represented by the two ships tied up in Charleston, are just the beginning of a voyage that will continue, he said.
     Congress is considering $14 million for the next fiscal year compared to the $4 million that launched eight major expeditions this year.
     Scientists found new kinds of organisms and made discoveries that could affect the quality of life in America, said Capt. Craig N. McLean, director of the new Office of Ocean Exploration at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
     They're waiting to be discovered in places much closer than outer space, he pointed out.
Using the submersible Alvin, which can descend three miles, scientists came face-to-face in the freezing ocean blackness with mussels a foot long and one-celled creatures the size of tennis balls.
"There is a marvelous list of discoveries," McLean said.
     Another mission in the Atlantic Ocean preserved the U.S. Civil War vessel Monitor.
Meanwhile, Pacific coast expeditions found shoreline that had been inundated for 13,000 years, showing a likely migration route from Asia to the New World.
     McLean's office and the ocean initiative were born after a presidential commission decided last year that the country should increase ocean exploration for medical, environmental and economic reasons.
Islands in the Stream began in Belize and followed the Gulf Stream up the East Coast through the Savannah Scarp and the Charleston Bump to North Carolina.
    That mission, which found tropical creatures north of the Charleston Bump, examined NOAA's national marine sanctuaries and areas that might warrant greater protection.
The Deep East expedition made three voyages into much deeper water to explore canyons and sea mounts from Maine to Blake Ridge off this state and Georgia.
Nearly 2,000 students in Charleston, Connecticut and New York kept in touch with the missions via the Internet, said Paula Keener-Chavis of the College of Charleston. She joined scientists on two Deep East voyages, developed lesson plans and posted "incredible discoveries" on the Internet.
Education and outreach are important parts of ocean exploration, McLean said. He hopes a new generation of scientists toured the ships Monday.
Robert B. Gagosian, director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, suggested Monday that since the most of the planet is covered by water, it should be named Planet Ocean rather than Earth.
With a smile, he urged U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., to pursue that new name in light of Hollings' decades of work on behalf of the ocean.
Hollings, who was honored during the formal ceremonies Monday, responded, "In a democracy, we believe the majority rules, and 7/10th is ocean.
"There is real knowledge unfound in the oceans."