After more than 4,000 years — almost since the dawn of recorded time, when Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that the secret to immortality lay in a coral found on the ocean floor — man finally discovered eternal life in 1988. He found it, in fact, on the ocean floor. The discovery was made unwittingly by Christian Sommer, a German marine-biology student in his early 20s. He was spending the summer in Rapallo, a small city on the Italian Riviera, where exactly one century earlier Friedrich Nietzsche conceived “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”: “Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of being. Everything dies, everything blossoms again… .”
Sommer was conducting research on hydrozoans, small invertebrates that, depending on their stage in the life cycle, resemble either a jellyfish or a soft coral. Every morning, Sommer went snorkeling in the turquoise water off the cliffs of Portofino. He scanned the ocean floor for hydrozoans, gathering them with plankton nets. Among the hundreds of organisms he collected was a tiny, relatively obscure species known to biologists as Turritopsis dohrnii. Today it is more commonly known as the immortal jellyfish.
The ocean — it is the most prominent feature on Earth, and of immeasurable importance to life on the planet. But what would it look like if all of the water was drained out of it? Mountains and valleys that dwarf Everest; shifting plates and undersea volcanoes; seams, ripples, and plains. Though ships have mapped only a small portion of the ocean floor, satellites are used to generate incredibly details maps of the bottom of the ocean. By sensing the minute gravitational changes that pull, push, and bulge the ocean surface, the bottom’s shape can be inferred from space. These bathymetric maps reveal the incredibly dynamic terrain of the ocean. Where available, ship-based measurements are included to provide even higher detail.
This visualization tours the ocean floor from the gentle continental slopes to the deepest trenches using data analyzed and archived by NOAA. Does it look familiar? It is actually the same data that Google has incorporated into Google Earth and Ocean.
National Geographic has a much longer video which animates the draining of the oceans to reveal the bathymetry.
“I’m excited to report that, using state-of-the-art deep sea sonar, the team has found the Apollo 11 engines lying 14,000 feet below the surface, and we’re making plans to attempt to raise one or more of them from the ocean floor,” Bezos wrote. “We don’t know yet what condition these engines might be in — they hit the ocean at high velocity and have been in salt water for more than 40 years. On the other hand, they’re made of tough stuff, so we’ll see.”
Researchers have pieced together what’s believed to be the first comprehensive map of the entire 3-by-5-mile Titanic debris field and hope it will provide new clues about what exactly happened the night 100 years ago when the superliner hit an iceberg, plunged to the bottom of the North Atlantic and became a legend.
Marks on the muddy ocean bottom suggest, for instance, that the stern rotated like a helicopter blade as the ship sank, rather than plunging straight down, researchers told the Associated Press this week.
An expedition team used sonar imaging and more than 100,000 photos taken from underwater robots to create the map, which shows where hundreds of objects and pieces of the presumed-unsinkable vessel landed after striking an iceberg, killing more than 1,500 people.
Explorers of the Titanic — which sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City— have known for more than 25 years where the bow and stern landed after the vessel struck an iceberg. But previous maps of the floor around the wreckage were incomplete, said Parks Stephenson, a Titanic historian who consulted on the 2010 expedition. Studying the site with old maps was like trying to navigate a dark room with a weak flashlight.
“With the sonar map, it’s like suddenly the entire room lit up and you can go from room to room with a magnifying glass and document it,” he said. “Nothing like this has ever been done for the Titanic site.”
The mapping took place in the summer of 2010 during an expedition to the Titanic led by RMS Titanic Inc., the legal custodian of the wreck, along with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Mass., and the Waitt Institute of La Jolla, Calif.
They were joined by other groups, as well as the cable History channel. Details on the new findings at the bottom of the ocean are not being revealed yet, but the network will air them in a two-hour documentary on April 15, exactly 100 years after the Titanic sank.
The expedition team ran two independently self-controlled robots known as autonomous underwater vehicles along the ocean bottom day and night. The torpedo-shaped AUVs surveyed the site with side-scan sonar, moving at a little more than 3 miles per hour as they traversed back and forth in a grid along the bottom, said Paul-Henry Nargeolet, the expedition’s co-leader with RMS Titanic Inc. Dave Gallo from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was the other co-leader.
The AUVs also took high-resolution photos — 130,000 of them in all — of a smaller 2-by-3-mile area where most of the debris was concentrated. The photos were stitched together on a computer to provide a detailed photo mosaic of the debris.
The result is a map that looks something like the moon’s surface showing debris scattered across the ocean floor well beyond the large bow and stern sections that rest about half a mile apart.
The map provides a forensic tool with which scientists can examine the wreck site much the way an airplane wreck would be investigated on land, Nargeolet said.
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Remarkable images of life from one of the most inhospitable spots in the ocean have been captured by scientists.
Researchers have been surveying volcanic underwater vents - sometimes called black smokers - in the South West Indian Ridge in the Indian Ocean.
The UK team found an array of creatures living in the super-heated waters, including yeti crabs, scaly-foot snails and sea cucumbers.
They believe some of the species may be new to science.
Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in 1977. These fissures in the ocean floor spew out fiercely hot, mineral-rich water, yet somehow, diverse ecosystems are able to thrive in these hostile conditions.
Species such as this sea cucumber are not found in neighbouring ridge systems
The team, from the University of Southampton, was particularly interested in the vents on the South West Indian Ridge because this range is linked to the Mid Atlantic Ridge and the Central Indian Ridge, where vent life has been well documented.
This area is also unusual because it is an “ultra-slow spreading” ridge, which means it is less volcanically active than other ridges, with fewer vents that are further apart.
Dr Jon Copley, chief scientist of the Indian Ocean vents project, said: “This place is a real crossroads in terms of the vent species around the world.”
Using a remote-operated, underwater robot called Kiel 6000, from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM Geomar), in Germany, the team was able to train their cameras on the vents.
In the hottest habitat around the black smokers, they found snails and shrimp, as well as mussels, sea cucumbers and crabs. They then compared these with the animals found at vents on the neighbouring ridges.
Dr Copley said: “I was expecting there to be some similarities to what we know from the Atlantic, and some similarities to what we know from the Indian Ocean vents, and that was true, but we also found types of animals here which are not known from either of those neighbouring areas, and that was a big surprise.
“One was a type of yeti crab. There are two currently described species of yeti crab known from the Pacific, and it isn’t like those, but it is the same type of animal, with long, hairy arms.
“Also some sea cucumbers - not known from the Atlantic or Central Indian vents, but known from the Pacific.”
He added: “We’ve got links to lots of different parts of the world here, which is very exciting.”
The team was also surprised at the diversity of life they found during this expedition, which was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc).
Dr Copley said: “In a lot of other vent fields I’ve been to, in this hot zone where you get the animals there is often just one type of animal living there: in the deep Mid Atlantic Ridge, it’s the shrimp. But here, we have seen three to four all in the same zone.”
There was a diverse mix of creatures, including this stalked barnacle, around the vents
The findings should help researchers to learn more about how life moves from vent to vent: vents are short lived, and without the ability to hop from one system to the next, life there would go extinct.
“That is why vents are a great place to understand how species disperse and evolve in the deep oceans, because they are like little islands,” Dr Copley added.
Despite these findings, the researchers are worried about the future of this underwater terrain.
China has been granted an exploratory licence by the International Seabed Authority to explore the potential of mining the vents in this area for their rich minerals.
Dr Copley said: “This vent field is the size of a few football pitches, and it seems possible that it is the only known range of some of these species.
“It would be very premature to start disrupting it before we really know the true extent of what lives in it.”
Shrimp like this one may be under threat from deep-sea mining