Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

Explorer to search depth of the Gulf

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Norwich Bulletin
By Amy Lawson
November 02, 2006


Dr. Robert Ballard, president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium and the man credited with finding the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1985, has announced plans for an expedition into the Gulf of Mexico.

A team of project officials, including University of Connecticut professor Dr. Kevin McBride and Institute for Archaeological Oceanography professor Dr. Dwight Coleman, credited two graduate students with the idea for the mission, which was announced Wednesday morning at a press conference at the aquarium. The expedition will allow scientists to identify now-underwater land that was once the shoreline of North America during the Neolithic period.

The trip, which will focus on exploring the underwater topography of an area 100 miles off the coast of Texas known as the Flower Garden Banks, will depart March 2007 from Galveston and be broadcast live to museums and Boys and Girls Clubs of America across the country. Visitors from Connecticut can catch the shows at the aquarium.

"It is amazing that we're going to reach not only local children but tens of thousands of children around the U.S.," Ballard said of the technology his team will use to direct the mission remotely. "What Houston has for outer space, we'll have for inner space."

Though Ballard said the team has no idea what artifacts may be recovered, he cited a painted canoe paddle recovered from a thousands-year-old site in Denmark.

McBride called the expedition "possibly the most important question being addressed by archaeologists in the Western Hemisphere."

"We expect to find the earliest human occupation in the Americas," he said. "The reason we're looking on the coast is that it's likely if people were hear early, they were exploring the resources. We will be reconstructing that landscape as it was 15,000 to 20,000 years ago."

The Flower Garden Banks is a marine sanctuary that includes a 42-square nautical mile area.

The sanctuary includes three zones -- the East Flower Garden, West Flower Garden and Stetson banks.

The area was designated a sanctuary in 1992.

"This area may include cave systems that provided a source of protection for people and shelter for people," Coleman said.

The project includes a slew of partners and sponsors including the U.S. Navy, who will lend the use of their Groton-based NR-1 submarine, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Sanctuaries Program. The University of Rhode Island and UConn will also be involved.

The team said they will conduct similar research off the coast of Block Island in 2008.

Ballard said his ultimate goal is to pilot one of the undersea vehicles along the bottom of the Stetson Bank to determine whether it is comprised of salt, which was considered a precious resource during the Stone Age.

"I'd love to find a mine," Ballard said. "It's only a dream, but I've been lucky in my past with those coming true."


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