Discovering what lies beneath

The ocean covers nearly three quarters of the earth’s surface, yet 95 percent of the underwater world is still unexplored. Using small high tech submarines, a Florida organization called Project Baseline offers a rare glimpse of what lies beneath.

TRANSCRIPT

THE OCEAN COVERS NEARLY 3/4 OF THE EARTH'S SURFACE, YET MORE THAN 95% OF THE UNDERWATER WORLD IS STILL UNEXPLORED.

USING SMALL HIGH-TECH SUBMARINES, A FLORIDA ORGANIZATION CALLED PROJECT BASELINE OFFERS A VIEW UNDER THE SEA AND A LOOK AT THE HEALTH OF THE MARINE ECOSYSTEM.

EXPLORING THE OCEANS HAS ALWAYS BEEN A DIFFICULT, DANGEROUS, AND EXPENSIVE PROPOSITION.

DIVERS CAN ONLY EXPLORE WITHIN A SHALLOW DEPTH AND FOR A SHORT TIME.

SUBMERSIBLES ARE EXPENSIVE AND PROVIDE ONLY A LIMITED VIEW OF THEIR SURROUNDINGS.

BUT A COMPANY IN VERO BEACH IS MAKING NEW-GENERATION SUBS THAT GREATLY EXPAND THE ABILITY OF RESEARCHERS TO EXPLORE THE OCEANS.

I THINK THE FIRST THING MOST PEOPLE NOTICE WHEN THEY SEE THE TRITON IS THE ACRYLIC SPHERE.

IT HAS TO BE OPTICALLY PERFECT, DIMENSIONALLY PERFECT.

IF IT WASN'T PERFECTLY ROUND, IT WOULDN'T BE AS STRONG AS IT NEEDS TO BE.

A GREAT VIEW ISN'T THE ONLY ADVANTAGE.

RESEARCHERS CAN ALSO DIVE SAFELY FOR EXTENDED PERIODS.

WE CARRY 96 HOURS OF RESERVE LIFE SUPPORT IN ADDITION TO OUR 10 OR 12 HOURS OF NORMAL MISSION TIME.

BECAUSE TRITON SUBS ARE SAFE AND RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE, MANY RESEARCH GROUPS CAN UTILIZE THEM.

ONE SUCH GROUP IS PROJECT BASELINE OUT OF HIGH SPRINGS, FLORIDA.

PROJECT BASELINE IS REALLY SO SIMPLE THAT IT'S ALMOST TOO SIMPLE.

IT'S ABOUT EMPOWERING ANYONE INTERESTED IN THE WATER TO GO TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH AND WRITE A GENERAL OBSERVATIONAL REPORT ABOUT WHAT THEY SEE, ABOUT THEIR FAVORITE SPOT IN THIS WORLD THAT'S WATER RELATED.

DURING A RECENT DIVE OFF THE COAST OF LAKE WORTH, PROJECT BASELINE TEAMED UP WITH NOVA SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY TO EXPLORE A LARGE RIDGE THAT HAD BEEN RECENTLY DISCOVERED.

IT'S A VERY UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO BE ABLE TO SEE SOMETHING REMOTELY AND HAVE QUESTIONS -- ALL KINDS OF QUESTIONS ABOUT WHAT'S THERE, AND THEN BEING ABLE TO GO VISIT THEM IS PRETTY AMAZING.

SO, WHICH TELL US IT'S WEST.

ALL THE WAY TO, THROUGH -- IT'S THE SAME RIDGE.

YES.

LOOKS LIKE IT.

YES.

THEY'RE BOTH ON THE RIDGE.

WE'RE REALLY NOT ACTUALLY LOOKING FOR POINT ONE OR POINT TWO.

THAT'S RIGHT.

WE'RE LOOKING FOR THE RIDGE.

THAT'S RIGHT.

WE HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO EXPLORE THIS RIDGE BECAUSE OF THE DEPTH.

IT'S ABOUT 250 FEET.

IT'S OUTSIDE OF NORMAL DIVING LIMITS.

AND SO TODAY WE'D LIKE TO UTILIZE THE SUBS TO GO DOWN AND GET A GOOD LOOK AT WHAT'S LIVING DOWN THERE.

MY ROLE IN THIS IS TO TAKE SCIENTISTS AND DIFFERENT RESEARCHERS FROM AROUND THE GLOBE DOWN INTO THE ENVIRONMENT THAT THEY NORMALLY STUDY PURELY FROM A LAB OR FROM A REMOTELY OPERATED VEHICLE.

BY PLACING THEM INTO AN HOV -- A SUBMERSIBLE -- WE'RE ABLE TO GET THEM IMMERSED IN THREE DIMENSIONS.

IN OUR MODERN SUBS, WE'RE SITUATED INSIDE OF AN ACRYLIC SPHERE THAT'S OPTICALLY MATCHED TO SEAWATER, AND IT HAS AIR CONDITIONING AND COMMUNICATIONS.

THERE'S A SURFACE TRACKING DEVICE.

WHAT I'M DOING IS TAKING THEIR LOCATIONS, TRACKING IT WITH THIS BOAT, AND THEN WE'VE GOT OUR CHART OF THE AREAS WE'RE HAVING THEM GO TO.

THEY CAN'T GET GPS ON THE OCEAN FLOOR, SO WE'RE THEIR GPS ON THE SURFACE.

WHEN WE GOT ON THE BOTTOM, WE WERE A LITTLE CONFUSED AS TO WHETHER WE WERE ON THE RIDGE OR OFF THE RIDGE 'CAUSE IT WASN'T AS PROMINENT AS WE'D HOPED.

IT TURNS OUT THAT WE DID HIT THE MARK, SO WE JUST KIND OF TRAVERSED THE AREA FOR A WHILE.

AND THEN WE CAME ACROSS TWO ANCHORS WITH CHAINS CONNECTED TO THEM, AND WE WERE INTRIGUED.

ONE OF THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GOING IN A SUBMERSIBLE AND SCUBA DIVING IS THE FACT THAT YOU REALLY GET A TIME TO APPRECIATE THE ENVIRONMENT YOU'RE IN.

THERE'S A LITTLE BIT LESS CONCERN AS AN OBSERVER ABOUT YOUR BUDDY AND YOUR LIFE SUPPORT.

YOU REALLY JUST GET TO SIT THERE AND EXPLORE.

WE WEREN'T LOOKING FOR A WRECK.

WE WERE LOOKING FOR CORAL AND HARD-BOTTOM STRUCTURE THAT NATURALLY PROVIDE HABITAT, AND WE, UNFORTUNATELY, IN THE COURSE OF THREE HOURS, FOUND NONE.

IT WAS QUITE A NEAT SITE TO BE ON.

THERE WAS A LOT OF FISH.

WE SAW A LARGE SUNFISH, CALLED A WHICH IS A VERY SPECIAL SIGHT TO SEE, ESPECIALLY IN 200 FEET OF WATER.

UNFORTUNATELY, WE SAW A LOT OF LIONFISH, WHICH ARE INVASIVE SPECIES, AND THEY HAD THAT WRECK PRETTY WELL COVERED.

THIS GIANT SHIPWRECK WAS PROVIDING THIS ARTIFICIAL HABITAT THAT THOSE FISH WOULD HAVE NORMALLY SOUGHT OUT NATURAL HABITAT, BUT UNFORTUNATELY, THE HARD-BOTTOM STRUCTURE, THE NATURAL HABITAT, IS GONE.

AND WE'VE ALL GOT TO GET A HANDLE ON WHY THAT'S OCCURRED 'CAUSE THAT'S WHERE THE FISH ARE SUPPOSED TO BE LIVING.

BY ACCUMULATING DATA FROM MANY SIMILAR OUTINGS, PROJECT BASELINE EXPECTS TO ESTABLISH A UNIVERSAL POINT OF REFERENCE FOR THE QUALITY OF THE AQUATIC ENVIRONMENT.

THE NEW STUDENTS THAT WE HAVE COMING IN AT THE MOMENT, THEIR BASELINE IS DIFFERENT.

AND SO I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT FOR PROJECT BASELINE TO CAPTURE THAT.

THE SOONER WE CREATE A STABLE BASELINE PICTORIALLY AND SCIENTIFICALLY, THEN WE'RE ABLE TO MONITOR AT A VERY EFFECTIVE LEVEL WHERE EVERYBODY IN THE COMMUNITY, WHETHER THEY HAVE A SCIENTIFIC COLLEGE DEGREE OR THEY'RE A SIMPLE PERSON OBSERVING SOMETHING ON TV, THEY'LL GET IT.

AND THE VISUAL NATURE OF PROJECT BASELINE'S EVIDENCE IS WHAT MAKES IT SO POWERFUL.

THE PEOPLE THAT DON'T DIVE AND DON'T EXPERIENCE THE WATER LIKE WE DO NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE IMPACT OF WHAT'S GOING ON FROM WHAT WE DO IN OUR EVERYDAY LIFE, HOW IT'S AFFECTING 2/3 OF THE PLANET.

THESE GREAT UNIVERSITIES AND RESEARCHERS ALL OVER THE WORLD HAVE VOLUMES OF DATA.

THEY EXPLAIN EXACTLY WHAT'S GOING ON.

BUT NO ONE LISTENS AND NO ONE READS TO THE DEGREE THAT IS NECESSARY TO CAUSE AN EMOTIONAL RESPONSE IN THE GENERAL PUBLIC.

AN IMAGE CAUSES A VISCERAL REACTION.