Exploring The Deep
Titanic explorer's educational program brings kids into the Monterey Bay.
Thursday, March 12, 1998
She was the "unsinkable ship;" this year''s blockbuster movie bearing her name is nominated for 14 Academy Awards. Now, the man who discovered the Titanic''s wreckage 12,000 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic is coming to Monterey to lead students on a new expedition as part of his JASON Project.
Dr. Robert Ballard started the highly interactive project (named for the Jason and the Argonauts story) after students became interested in his 1985 find of the doomed oceanliner and wanted to join him on his next trip. Now in its ninth year, JASON uses advanced technology, video and marine research to engage students and teachers (called Argonauts) through live satellite broadcasts from various locations each year, on as many topics as the rainforest, lava flows, and the effects of El Ni¤o, which of course is this year''s focus. They will study the biodiversity and chemical makeup of the Bay, the basics of oceanography, and more details on kelp.
Students and teachers apply each year to join the expeditions. Twenty-seven student Argonauts and half a dozen teachers will join Dr. Ballard and Dr. Steve Webster, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, between March 16-27, as they compare the Bay''s kelp forest habitat with the coral reef habitat of Bermuda, the other site that will be linked via satellite and Internet. Thousands of other budding marine biologists from at least four nations will be able to view and discuss the expedition from Primary Interactive Network (PIN) sites around the world. John Heine, from Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, and Matt Edwards, from the UCSC Biology Department, will be diving in the Bay (weather permiting), and answering Argonauts'' questions as they explore underwater.
There is nothing specific they''re looking for at either research site, explains Webster, but comparing the results of El Ni¤o on the two habitats is a goal. The researchers and students plan to collect data on shallow, mid-water and deep ocean environments and the creatures living there. This data can then be studied alongside information the Argonauts found in their class field research in their own towns and waters.
In the event El Ni¤o strikes again, the divers will be confined to the Aquarium''s kelp tank. Ballard and Webster will be near the kelp exhibit at the Aquarium to lead discussions and help students interpret the findings. In addition, the ROV Ventana (remote operated vehicle) owned by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) will be cruising up to 1,800 meters underwater to give another viewpoint.
"We''re going to have five programs daily from the Aquarium, about an hour each," says Webster, "We''ll have sort of a command central in front of our kelp forest, where monitors will be set up for the JASON students. The subject matter will be driven by the kids'' questions really, we can talk to them at the PINs and they can talk to us."
The Argonauts have been studying a science and technology curriculum designed by the project for most of the year. This includes a history of ocean exploration, a reading of Jules Vernes'' 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the effects of humans on the oceans and different ocean structures, how to use the Internet for global learning, and details on the kelp of the Monterey Bay and coral of Bermuda. Middle schools in Castroville and Gilroy are participating, while the closest PIN site to Monterey is at NASA/Ames Research Center in the Bay Area.
Other students and teachers in Mexico, Canada, Britain and the United States will be taking "virtual field trips" at their PIN sites as a finale to the year''s work. They will see what the divers and ROV see as it happens. "No two hours will be the same," says Webster, "We have about eight locations in the Bay where they will go. During each hour, Dr. Ballard or I will be speaking, we''ll be getting images linked by satellite of what they''re doing in Bermuda.It should be exciting."
Our own backyard seems to be a perfect site for the JASON Project. The Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary includes more than 5,000 miles of ocean and coast, and it protects more than 350 species of mammals and fish. MBARI regularly sends out their two ships, the Point Lobos and the Western Flyer, with the ROVs Ventana and Tiburon, to explore the 60-mile long underwater Monterey Canyon, which is more than 1,000 meters deeper than the Grand Canyon. The new Tiburon ROV is able to dive down 4,000 meters, almost as far down as the Titanic was found. According to Dr. George Matsumoto, a biologist at MBARI, the Ventana will have a small role in the JASON Project. "They will use the microwave signal that is sent from our regular Ventana explorations."
For those without access to a PIN site or to the Aquarium, a daily program will be shown at JASON''s Website. Cyber visitors will be able to watch the expedition, chat with other viewers, and share data they''ve gathered on their own. The URL is www.jasonproject.org.