Oftentimes we don’t think about our limited knowledge of the deep ocean until after disaster strikes and it’s too late. An oil spill or a missing airplane can quickly demonstrate both how little we know about these environments and how difficult it is to get timely, actionable information about deep-water areas.
Deep reaches of the ocean are places with almost freezing temperatures, corrosive saltwater, limited or no light, and extreme pressures. Not only do we not always know what’s there, we often are lacking the tools and technology needed to get to these extreme places.
The first American ocean explorers used lead lines and collected data one laborious cast at a time. Our current technology allows us to deploy ships and vehicles with increasingly sophisticated systems for mapping the seafloor, measuring ocean characteristics, and sampling the marine environment. We are poised for another quantum leap into highly autonomous vehicles that will greatly increase the pace and scope of exploration.
Before, not after, disaster or crisis strikes: That is when we need knowledge about the environment. Ocean exploration provides the basic environmental intelligence needed to respond and respond appropriately. Additionally, the tools and technologies being developed for exploration can be transferred for use in emergency situations—whether an oil spill or an unexpected change that impacts marine life.
Without this basic knowledge and these technologies, how can we respond in the face of an ocean crisis and how can we know that our response is the right one?