Published by the American Geological Institute
Newsmagazine of the Earth Sciences
If Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition teamed
up with Captain Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the resulting
mission might be exactly what today’s ocean explorers are looking to start:
a discovery of the ocean, “Earth’s Final Frontier.” The expedition, described
at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on Dec.
15, would entail a pole-to-pole and back circumnavigation of the globe.
The cost: $75 million a year over 10 years.
Such a proposal surfaced four months after President Clinton announced a new era of ocean exploration and a need for a national strategy to put that era into play. The response from the 32 marine scientists and educators convened by the Secretary of Commerce was a departure from scientific emphasis on research to one of exploration and discovery.
If the Bush administration grants its approval, the highest priority of the mission will be to map and characterize the coastal area within the 320 kilometers that make up the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). So says panel chair Marcia McNutt of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, Calif. The goal would be to bring the United States up to par with other nations and then go beyond, investigating the polar regions and the unexplored areas of the southern oceans. Ireland, for example, has begun a 7-year project to investigate the geology, chemistry, fisheries and archeological wrecks of its coastal waters. “It’s personally embarrassing that Ireland is already ahead of this nation in terms of exploring its own EEZ,” McNutt says.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has committed $4 million for 2001. Via a conference call to the meeting from Washington, NOAA Administrator James Baker declared the report long overdue. “This is the first national report written by any nation that lays out a strategy for ocean exploration,” he says, adding that “this kind of program doesn’t work without funding.”