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Science File

Low Technology on Tap to Explore Gulf's Secrets

August 07, 2004|From Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Scientists will use advanced technology never before deployed beneath the sea as they try to discover new creatures, behaviors and phenomena in a 10-day expedition to the Gulf of Mexico's deepest reaches.

An international team of 16 scientists embarks today on the $210,000 mission, called Operation Deep Scope. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is paying for the expedition through a grant to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution of Fort Pierce, Fla.

"Scientists will head first for DeSoto Canyon, about 120 miles south of Pensacola, with a mini-submarine aboard a research vessel to visit recently detected pinnacles about 2,700 feet below the surface.

The expedition also will use a combination of new devices, including a stealthy camera system that can be left on the bottom for 24 hours at a time to photograph sea creatures under low levels of infrared light invisible to the animals.

Edith Widder, the expedition's co-leader and a senior scientist at Harbor Branch, said it will "allow us to see without being seen." Until now, scientists had limited options for observing deep-sea life.

"We have to drag nets through the water to bring the animals up to us, or we go down with these big, bright, noisy submersibles or remote-operated vehicles, which any animal with any kind of sensory system -- and any sense -- is going to get away from," Widder said.

Scientists have never seen a living example of one elusive deep-sea creature, the giant squid, but they know it exists because dead squids have floated to the surface.

Dispatches will be posted on the Web at Articles and lesson plans for teachers are at

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