(November 28, 2016) --

For several years now, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Discovery Hall Programs has been fortunate in being able to offer teachers and other educators a single day training workshop on the deep sea and NOAA’s Ocean Exploration program. The workshop, "Exploring the Deep Ocean with NOAA", is set for Saturday, December 3.

Many say that the deep sea is mankind’s final frontier for exploration, at least on Earth.  While more than 95 percent of the living space on Earth is in the deep sea, almost all of this immense habitat has not been seen by the human eye.  To date, humans have explored less than 1 percent of the total volume of ocean and less than 5 percent of the ocean floor.

The deep sea is certainly the environment we know least about. It is so different from what we consider to be characteristic of ‘normal’ habitats. It’s dark, it’s cold (~2°C), and the pressure can be thousands of times greater than our one atmosphere environment at the surface.  

The deep sea contains unusual habitats such as brine pools, hydrothermal vents and underwater mountain chains. And best of all, there are some very unusual animals living in the deep sea such as vampire squid, tube worms which are as tall as people, angler fishes that are more mouth than body and the barreleye which is a fish with a clear dome for a head.  If you are interested in exciting others about the process of discovery, the deep sea is a gold mine.  

While exploring at depths of over 4,000 meters northeast of Necker Island in the Hawaiian Archipelago, Deep Discoverer encountered this ghostlike octopod, which is almost certainly an undescribed species and may not belong to any described genus. (Courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana 2016.)

In 2008, the ship Okeanos Explorer was christened to explore the deep sea and ‘to go where no ship had gone before.’  Known as America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration, she is the only federally funded U.S. ship assigned to systematically explore the unknown ocean for the purpose of discovery and advancement of knowledge. The Okeanos Explorer is equipped with the latest technologies including multibeam sonar for high resolution mapping of the sea floor, two ROVs or remotely operated vehicles (unmanned tethered underwater robots) equipped with high definition cameras, banks of powerful lights and capable of reaching depths of 6,000 meters (~19700 ft; 3.72 miles) and an array of sensors.  

The vessel's most unusual capability is what NOAA calls telepresence.  Equipped with a huge satellite dome and lots of bandwidth, this ship can communicate directly and in real time with scientists across the globe, sharing high definition videos from the ROVs, and allowing these scientists to direct exploration by the ROV.  These exploration videos are streamed live through the Okeanos Explorer website and can be watched by anyone with internet access.

"Having spent many hours watching them, I can attest to the excitement and fascination of seeing something for the first time ever," Dr. Tina Miller-Way, Discovery Hall Programs' Chair said.   "Archived videos as well as photos and cruise logs from all of their exploration cruises are available through their website. I suggest checking out the Gulf of Mexico cruise in 2014."

The teacher workshop is filled with with great resources, fun and educational hands-on activities, and friendly and helpful colleagues, this workshop helps educators of all types tap this gold mine of excitement and discovery.  

If you are an educator, make plans to join us on Saturday, December 3. Just give us a call (251-861-2141, ext. 7515), send us an email to sejohnson@disl.org or go to Educator Workshops to learn more.

If you are not an educator, but want to learn more about this program and the deep sea, go to their website and explore.  

A word of caution from Dr. Miller-Way, "there are so many videos and photos available, you will lose many, many hours."