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Oceanographer Takes Cable Industry on Journey into the World’s Oceans

November 18, 1999

(Washington, DC) Robert B. Gagosian, Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), told the Washington Metropolitan Cable Club today that new technologies are completely changing the way oceanographers do ocean science, and that many problems facing society today can be solved if policymakers and others use this knowledge and technology wisely.

In “Exploring Earth’s Last Frontier,” the chemical oceanographer took the audience on a visual journey from the familiar surface waters of the coastal ocean to the deep sea far from shore where few have traveled.  He showed examples of how energy from the ocean and below the ocean floor fuels the majority of the planet’s natural events, from earthquakes to volcanoes to hurricanes to climate change.  Gagosian has been Director of the private independent marine research organization in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, since 1994  and a member of its scientific staff since 1972.  The Institution operates the U.S. National Deep Submergence Facility, which includes the three-person submersible ALVIN, the only deep-diving human occupied research vehicle in the United States, as well as other remotely operated and autonomous vehicles capable to working to depths of 20,000 feet and more.  Gagosian also serves as chairman of the board of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education, a Washington-based group of more than 50 U.S. marine research laboratories.

“New technologies, from remotely operated and autonomous underwater vehicles to advanced imaging systems, have opened up the last frontier on our planet,” Gagosian said. “The oceans are our inner space, but they are largely unexplored.  We have mapped 100 percent of the moon, but only five percent of the floor of the ocean, and the moon has been imaged with 100 times better resolution.  We are just beginning our adventure of discovery of the oceans as a society.  It is a very exciting time.”

Using video imagery from coastal waters to the deep sea, Gagosian showed a number of examples of how ocean sciences can help solve societal problems, from coastal erosion to public health issues related to seafood safety to maritime accident investigations and deep sea forensics.

“The investments of the past fifty years have brought the ocean sciences research community to a point where we are poised to make fundamental contributions in many areas of ocean sciences that affect our daily lives, from weather and climate prediction to food resources and public health issues,” he added. “With the technology we have today we will be able to explore the 95 percent of the ocean which is yet to be discovered in a very different way in the next decade than we have in the past.”