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Bottom Of The Sea Is 'A World Of Surprises'

The world’s oceans cover nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, yet little is understood about the ocean floor. Less than 10 percent of the global sea floors have been explored or mapped. That’s because it so difficult to do it — the ocean is vast and deep, and sophisticated technology is required to go there.

This is what makes the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the Indian Ocean so difficult.

Oceanographer Dave Gallo of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that what we do know is that the bottom of the ocean is a fascinating place, with dramatic peaks and valleys deeper than the Grand Canyon, and underwater lakes, rivers and waterfalls.

Interview Highlights

Gallo on why we don’t know more about what the ocean looks like

“Well it’s vast. The oceans are thousands of miles across, 10,000 in some places. It’s deep: average depth — two miles, greatest depth — seven miles. You need all sorts of sophisticated technology to go deep in the ocean. You can’t use GPS, you can’t use radio waves. You have to bring your own electricity and power and lights, and the pressure can be thousands of pounds per square inch, so it’s not an easy place to get to let alone explore.”

Gallo on what the ocean floor looks like

“If you took all the water off the planet, the most dramatic topographic feature on earth would be this mountain range called the mid ocean ridge — it’s a volcanic mountain range, 50,000 miles long and it winds around the world like the seams of a baseball and it’s got thousands of peaks on it that higher than the peals in the Alps, or the Himalayas, or the Rocky Mountains-most rugged thing on the planet and its crisscrossed by thousands of valleys many times wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon.”

Gallo on why the U.S. is sliding backwards on ocean exploration

“I don’t know.  I’ve never understood this given the promise of the oceans. There’s one things to explore the oceans because it’s exciting but we now know today that the air we breath, the food we eat, the water we drink-all of those are tied to the oceans.”

“It’s clear that there’s an advantage to be had by understanding what’s going on in the oceans, and the first thing we need to do is to explore it. Yet we don’t give it a lot of attention at all and I just don’t understand what we need to do to make that point.”

[Youtube]

[Youtube]

Guest

  • Dave Gallo, director of special projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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David Gallo co-led the search for Air France Flight 447. Three REMUS 6000 vehicles were utilized in the search for the wreckage. The vehicles use side scan sonar to map the ocean floor in long overlapping lanes, using a survey process known as “mowing the lawn.” After the data from large-scale surveys were analyzed and smaller fields of interest were identified, the REMUS 6000s then gathered more detailed, up-close images on subsequent dives using their high-resolution cameras. (Mike Purcell/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
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David Gallo co-led the search for Air France Flight 447. Three REMUS 6000 vehicles were utilized in the search for the wreckage. The vehicles use side scan sonar to map the ocean floor in long overlapping lanes, using a survey process known as “mowing the lawn.” After the data from large-scale surveys were analyzed and smaller fields of interest were identified, the REMUS 6000s then gathered more detailed, up-close images on subsequent dives using their high-resolution cameras. (Mike Purcell/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
David Gallo is pictured with R/V Atlantis behind him. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
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David Gallo is pictured with R/V Atlantis behind him. (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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