Ballard to Explore NOAA's Flower Garden

Friday, February 23, 2007
Dr. Robert Ballard and an interdisciplinary team of scientists will explore the fascinating undersea landscape of NOAA's Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FGBNMS). One of the 13 U.S. national marine sanctuaries, the FGBNMS is located approximately 115 miles off the Texas/Louisiana coast. Named for its colorful corals and sponges, the sanctuary was targeted for exploration because of its unique geology and biology. Its geological history also makes it a viable location to search for evidence of early human habitation that could predate current evidence of North America's first inhabitants. This expedition represents a unique collaboration between the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Institute for Exploration (IFE), Immersion Presents, the University of Rhode Island and the U.S. Navy. During the week-long expedition, a team of geologists, biologists and marine archaeologists will use two ships, a nuclear-powered research submarine, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and scuba divers to explore coral reefs, brine seeps, mud volcanoes and ancient shorelines.

Researchers will also explore the physical connections that provide protective cover for animals traveling between individual geologic features.

"This is a rare opportunity to explore the system of 'hidden highways' that connects the Flower Garden Banks ecosystem with other reefs and banks in the area," said George Schmahl, superintendent of the FGBNMS.

Deepwater exploration of the FGBNMS will be made possible by the U.S. Navy's NR-1-the nation's only nuclear-powered submarine dedicated to underwater research. Supported by the 238-foot SSV Carolyn Chouest, the NR-1 carries video cameras, sample-collection equipment and tools to map the sea floor. A high-definition camera and sensors on IFE's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Argus-a sled-like device that will be towed behind the Carolyn Chouest-will provide researchers with additional images and information about the sanctuary's habitats and

The expedition team will employ state-of-the-art "telepresence" technology to enable students, educators, scientists and the general public back on shore to follow the Secrets of the Gulf expedition 24/7 in real-time. Principal Investigators Ballard and McBride will use this same telepresence technology to lead the expedition from a remote science console based at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration.

Ballard also will host a series of live broadcasts produced by Immersion Presents and distributed via satellite, Internet2 and the commodity Internet. The broadcasts, which are part of a larger interdisciplinary science curriculum entitled Secrets of the Gulf, will take place daily from March 4-9, 2007, at 11 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm EST. Immersion Presents is partnering with a network of 30 Immersion Sites and 51 Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation to implement the Secrets of the Gulf program with upper elementary and middle school students.

Tune into http://www.immersionpresents.org to watch the broadcasts and follow the expedition online. The broadcasts can also be viewed at http://www.oceanslive.org.

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