Mark Schrope reports for the Washington Post, applauding the increasing support by wealthy patrons for the new frontier of deep sea exploration. One of the “elite benefactors” whom Schrope identifies is “The Abyss” film director James Cameron. He writes about Cameron:
Having donated the Deepsea Challenger, his deep-diving submersible, to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts in March and giving the institute $1 million to help keep the vehicle operational and to support efforts to transfer technologies developed for the sub to other uses.
Cameron also will support collaboration between Woods Hole scientists and engineers who worked with Cameron on filming his 1989 science fiction thriller “The Abyss” and the construction of his specialized sub.
“I wanted to be sure to fund this enough so that they would have the people and resources to absorb this stuff, describe it and publish it, to have it available” said Cameron, He is also an adviser for Woods Hole’s new Center for Marine Robotics, which aims to speed development of advanced ocean technologies through partnerships with private companies in fields such as oil and gas exploration.
I hope we can advance beyond the need for “oil and gas exploration” in the near future. I welcome more sustainable, perhaps nano-scale, highly-distributable energy technologies. I am also intrigued by deep sea exploration, as it holds deep secrets about life that could prove beneficial for humanity.
Schrope sees private-public partnerships as a good thing. In the first page of the three page report, Schrope details issues pertaining to funding shortages for oceanographic research by the mainstream channels.
He describes Cameron’s deep trench dive:
Last year in his sub, Cameron did the first solo dive to the deepest spot in the ocean, nearly 36,000 feet deep in the western Pacific. Only two people had visited before, in 1960, and only two robotic vehicles have been capable of diving there, one of which has been lost.
Schrope reports that scientists know very little about deep ocean trenches, which take up about as much sea floor as Australia and can be as deep as, “20,000 feet and more beneath the surface.”
Questions persist about even their most basic characteristics, such as how far down fish are found and which other animals live there. Exploration has been so limited that much of what scientists do know is from Danish, Soviet and Swedish expeditions more than 50 years ago.
Schrope also highlights the support of hedge fund founder Ray Dalio, who has given Woods Hole scientists the use of his “yacht/research vessel”, named Alucia, along with submersibles, scuba gear, donations, etc..
He reports on a recent Alucia expedition that recorded the, “First ever video of a giant squid in it’s deep-sea habitat.”
Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt is also named by Schrope as a big supporter of oceanographic exploration. Through the Schmidt Ocean Institute, a company Schmidt and his wife own, a “272-foot research vessel” named Falkor operates.
Falkor is far more comfortable than the average research vessel, with large staterooms, outdoor lounges with teak furniture and even a sauna. More important, the ship boasts such assets as a well-equipped command center for controlling remotely operated vehicles and an advanced seafloor-mapping sonar system.
Here’s how access to the Falkor for research works, according to Schrope:
Scientists apply to use the ship on specific expeditions at no charge. The institute uses a peer review process to choose proposals and then plans a route for the year.
Falkor began full operations in March, and this year it will be taking scientists to locations in the Atlantic and Pacific. Projects will include hunting for hydrothermal vents and studying microbes around a submerged volcano. Victor Zykov, the director of research for the Schmidt institute, said the patrons set no bounds for the types of marine science supported other than placing an emphasis on rapid dissemination of research findings. The Schmidt family hopes to join the expeditions on occasion.