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Happy Birthday, Amelia Earhart

Born July 24, 1897, today marks the 119th anniversary of the birth of Amelia Earhart. She and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared without a trace on her attempt at an around the world flight on July 2, 1937, just short of her 40th birthday. So what’s all the fuss? There is something about Amelia – her beauty, daring, and drive; her compassion, wisdom, and independence; and the sad, tragic end of her young life – that make her the classic heroine. A life of service in the public eye, a world traveler who called kings and presidents friends, a touch of passion with a famous partner, and a death shrouded in mystery, Earhart lived a remarkable life in fascinating times. There is Amelia appeal for everyone. – Excerpt from The Deep Sea Quest for Amelia Earhart

Midway Commemoration

Silver commemorative coin awarded by the International Midway Memorial Foundation
Silver commemorative coin awarded by the International Midway Memorial Foundation

In 1999, then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay L. Johnson announced that June 4 would become as significant as October 13 — the Navy’s birthday. “Twice a year, we will pause as a Navy to reflect upon our proud heritage and to build in all hands a renewed awareness of our tradition and history,” Johnson said. This year’s Battle of Midway Celebration Dinner was held at the Army-Navy Club in Arlington, VA, and I was honored to be the keynote speaker. In attendance were several veterans of the battle, representing the air, sea, and undersea forces that secured victory at the turning point of the war in the Pacific. My address focused on the role of the submarine Nautilus in the battle. Along with James Delgado, NOAA Director of Maritime Heritage, I was very pleased to receive a commemorative silver coin from the International Midway Memorial Foundation. Other sponsors included the Naval Historical Foundation, the Navy League, the Naval Submarine League, and the Naval Institute.

“The credit belongs to the man … who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”–Theodore Roosevelt

Remembering the Battle of Midway

Lieutenant Commander William Brockman as he received the Navy Cross for heroism at Midway, Pearl Harbor, 7 November 1942. U.S. Navy.
Lieutenant Commander William Brockman as he received the Navy Cross for heroism at Midway, Pearl Harbor, 7 November 1942. U.S. Navy.

Critical to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, fought 74 years ago today, were the heroic actions of the submarine USS Nautilus, as chronicled in my book The Search for the Japanese Fleet. The commander of the famous submarine was Lt. Cdr. William H. Brockman, Jr.

William Brockman was born November 18, 1904, in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Class of 1927. During the Battle of Midway, Brockman led Nautilus and the attack on the Japanese fleet from his position in the conning tower as the approach officer. His leadership, competence, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy were recognized with the award of the Navy Cross, the highest honor the Navy can bestow, topped only by the Medal of Honor (awarded by the President in the name of Congress). The citation reads:

“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander William Herman Brockman, Jr., United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of USS Nautilus (SS-168), in the Battle of Midway. On 4 June 1942, Lieutenant Commander Brockman aggressively developed a contact with major enemy forces and doggedly pushed home a torpedo attack on a screened aircraft carrier against determined and repeated enemy counter measures by gunfire barrage, depth charging and bombing from the air. The attack culminated successfully and Lieutenant Commander Brockman is credited with closing and sinking of a 10,000 ton enemy aircraft carrier. His skill, determination, courage and fortitude were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.”

He won two more Navy Crosses and a Silver Star for further exploits as commander of Nautilus, including sinking of enemy ships, transporting of troops, and evacuation of civilians from enemy occupied territory. William Brockman departed on eternal patrol from Boca Raton, Florida, January 2, 1979, at the age of seventy-four.

Egypt Flight 804 and INS Dakar

Flight 804.001The tragic loss of Egypt Air Flight 804 and the sixty-six lives on board poses yet another challenge for aircraft investigators and deep-sea recovery teams. Like the Air France Flight 447 accident and the Malaysian Airlines MH-370 disappearance, the aircraft went down over ocean, coordinates only approximately known. The flight recorders for Flight 447 were found two years later at over 13,000 foot depth by a team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. No trace of MH-370 has been found despite dogged efforts. The disappearance of Flight 804 is reminiscent of the mysterious case of the Israeli submarine INS Dakar, which vanished in almost exactly the same spot in the Mediterranean in 1968. Though the two events are certainly coincidental, there are similarities. The location, in a deep-sea site known as the Herodotus Basin, is the deepest part of the Mediterranean at 10,000 feet. Sixty-nine sailors were lost on Dakar, and their fate could not be determined until the wreckage was found. A single piece of wreckage washed ashore, but swirling, hard to predict winds and currents made it impossible to calculate from where the piece had originated with any accuracy. In the case of Dakar, over thirty years passed before its discovery by Nauticos in 1999, revealing that its demise was the result of a tragic accident. It is certainly hoped that the families of Egypt Air Flight 804 will soon learn what happened to their loved ones, but experience suggests that they may have to wait for some time.

 

Scuba Scenes from Grenada

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of scuba diving with Phil Renaud (Director of the Living Oceans Foundation) and other friends off the island of Grenada in the southern Caribbean. Besides being an avid diver, Phil has a great underwater camera, and knows how to use it! Below is a short (3 minute) video typical of what you can see if you SONY DSCventure below the surface. We dove on a small shipwreck and enjoyed closeup views of corals & critters, including a number of large sea horses. In the end, we gathered for a group photo among the Circle of Children, part of the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park, the world’s first underwater sculpture gallery.

Phil leads the Living Oceans Foundation in the one of the largest coral reef studies in history. Called the Global Reef Expedition, it will circumnavigate the globe surveying some of the most remote reefs on the planet. It will take five years to complete the field research alone.

NOAA mission highlights

NOAA Mission Highlights

Though our Nauticos team was disappointed that bad weather forced cancellation of our dives on the site of the Battle of Midway, we took heart in what was accomplished.  The expedition yielded a great wealth of baseline information about the largely unexplored Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument. Eight ROV dives identified 249 different types of organisms, and 34 geological and biological specimens were collected including 13 species unknown to the region (or in some cases the planet). Dozens of scientists and students from around the world participated via telepresence, and many followers watched live feed through our Expedition Portal. A video of mission highlights can be seen here, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

After a short port visit in Kwajalein for resupply, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer is conducting mapping operations to explore the largely unknown region surrounding the Wake Island Unit of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Our Expedition Portal continues to connect to live feeds from the ship, so check in for updates and continue to follow and explore the deep sea with us!

Image from Deep Discoverer at 14,075 feet courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

Blue Octopus

EX1603_IMG_20160227T223501Z_ROVHD_OCTOPUS
Image from Deep Discoverer at 14,075 feet courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration.

It was my first time watching live video from the deep seafloor via telepresence–from the comfort of my home computer. I was astonished to witness amazing imagery of a beautiful translucent pale blue octopus, and the mission scientists seemed just as excited and flummoxed. Turns out this strange finless cephalopod was the first of its kind seen by humans, and at 14,075 feet was the deepest ever seen of this type.

In this video, courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, on-board scientist Daniel Wagner narrates the scene as shore-based scientists express their feelings of thrill and awe.

The discovery was made by the ROV D2 deployed from the Oceans Explorer on February 27th while exploring Necker Ridge, southwest of Kauai in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine Sanctuary. All of us following this groundbreaking expedition are privileged to witness this and other undersea discoveries as they happen. Live feed and replays of earlier dives can be seen though our Expedition Portal.

Weather

The Okeanos Explorer is currently operating near an undersea feature called Pioneer Tablemount, southeast of Midway Atoll, 1,000 miles from Honolulu. This largely unexplored pinnacle rises from the seafloor over 5,000 meters deep to nearly the surface. Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 4.44.53 PM (2)A spectacular ROV dive is currently taking place this afternoon of March 4th, revealing incredible sea life such as the transparent sea cucumber at left. These creatures are usually seen on the bottom, but this one was found free swimming, its undulating body moving it steadily by, at a depth of over 1,000 meters. Viscera can be seen inside its clear outer body.

Unfortunately, gusting winds and high seas have forced cancellation of several ROV dives over the last few days, and postponed our planned weekend operations on the Battle of Midway site. We are holding out hope that the weather will abate and dives can take place early next week, though the forecast is not promising.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.42.44 AMThe image at right, from Natural Earth, gives an idea what we’re up against. With the view centered roughly over our operations area, this snapshot from March 1 shows a couple of major storm systems passing through the region. History shows a 20% chance of seas exceeding twelve feet during the winter months in this part of the world, and we are definitely falling within that unlucky circumstance.

Regardless of the weather, the mapping team has been extremely productive during the last couple of days and filled in some important gaps around Pioneer Bank. These efforts included the mapping of a completely new seamount to the west of Pioneer Bank Ridge.

Please check out our Expedition Portal to see live imagery, replays of earlier dives, and other information about this important and exciting NOAA expedition.

Expedition Portal | Seaword | Nauticos

Expedition Portal Launched

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.34.06 AMThe NOAA Okeanos Explorer is currently at sea mapping and imaging sites from Necker Ridge to French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands chain. Spectacular images from the seafloor have been collected, as well as rock and biological samples. As of February 29, the vessel is dealing with very bad weather and has cancelled the day’s dive. However, one can see replays of earlier dives and follow developing events live though our new Expedition Portal. This site has been launched to support educational outreach and general public interest in undersea exploration as we plan dives on the site of the Battle of Midway on March 5 and 6. Besides the live feeds, one can explore the history of the battle, view images of prior expeditions, learn about the science and technology of deep sea research. Educational materials and mission updates will be added over the course of the expedition.

Click on the image to launch the Portal. Check out Camera 1 and 2 to see what is happening and replays of earlier ROV dives. Select “Where is the Okeanos” to see where the vessel is and has been. Dive into the Portal windows to learn more. Keep checking as we upload new content during the expedition. And share the link with anyone interested in exploration!

Rockwell_LogoThis Portal was made possible by the generous support of Rockwell Collins and the SeaWord Foundation.

ROV Technology

Oceaneering's SpiderBOT™
Oceaneering’s SpiderBOT™

ROVs – Remotely Operated Vehicles – allow us to look and touch at the bottom of the ocean where no human can survive. Most deep sea ROVs can dive to 6,000 m (20,000 feet), allowing them to reach 95% of the ocean floor. At that depth, water pressure approaches 9,000 psi! Tethered to a research vessel with a long cable that provides power and receives images and telemetry, the ROV uses thrusters to move and position itself to get the best view or grab the most valuable sample with its robot arms. ROVs come in many sizes, from the monster machines that service offshore oil installations or bury cables, to the suitcase-sized SpiderBOTs made famous in the movie Titanic.

In 1999, Nauticos used an ROV operated by the Naval Oceanographic Office to discover wreckage from the Japanese aircraft carrier Kaga, sunk at the Battle of Midway in 1942. You can read about this project and the history of the battle in The Search for the Japanese Fleet. Nauticos and the SeaWord Foundation plan to work with NOAA’s Deep Discoverer ROV in early March to return to the site and capture hi-def video of the wreckage, far superior to what was possible nearly 20 years ago.

This 4-ton artifact was recovered from 10,000 feet using ROV technology.
This 4-ton artifact was recovered from 10,000 feet depth using ROV technology.

Nauticos also used the ROV Remora in 1999 to identify the wreck of the Israeli submarine Dakar, and returned to the site the following year to recover a 4-ton artifact from the seafloor at 10,000 feet. Operators on the ship high above watched through remote cameras to operate mechanical arms and manipulators to attach a lifting line to the structure of the artifact so that a winch could slowly lift it to the surface. After nine hours, the conning tower of Dakar emerged from the sea after resting there for 31 years. The tower is now on display at the Naval Museum in Haifa, a memorial to the 69 sailors who lost their lives on the ill-fated warship. This story is chronicled in Never Forgotten: The Search and Recovery of Israel’s Lost Submarine Dakar. This 3-minute video, produced for the Maryland Science Center Titanic exhibition, includes scenes from that spectacularly successful Dakar recovery mission.