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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 http://www.at-sea.org. Articles and lesson plans for teachers are at http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov.

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