| by Flemming Funch|
Wired has an editorial by Graham S. Hawkes suggesting a NASA for the exploration of the deep oceans. It has been noted many times that our oceans contain more mysteries and are more uncharted than is the Moon or Mars. And they're so much closer.
About 94 percent of life on Earth resides in the oceans. We've seen only about 2 percent of this vast ecosystem - the uppermost layer (home to fish, whales, scuba divers, and most known marine life). Beneath this warm lens lies a cold, dark, and life-rich realm of grand proportions. It's home to creatures as far removed from the sun and human biology as any alien imagined by science fiction.
There's potentially huge resources there, and discoveries waiting to be made in how life works, in new kinds of DNA.
We've seen some of these organisms clustering around midocean thermal vents - small undersea volcanoes that spew 400-degree water spiked with toxic chemicals. Thriving in total darkness, under 8,000 psi of ambient pressure, these organisms possess metabolic processes fundamentally different from ours. The ones we know about rely on chemosynthesis, using sulphides and other chemicals from Earth's core to convert seawater into food. That's about as alien as it gets.
Currently, the entire US scientific community shares a single, 12-year-old submersible named Alvin. With just one Alvin, long-range exploration is nearly impossible. Alvin doesn't even know where to go because we don't have a decent map. The latest ocean charts rely on satellites to detect the sea-level changes wrought by the gravitational pull of underlying topography. This gives us a crude sketch that's essentially useless without hands-on exploration. We can't begin to mine the sea's minerals or harvest DNA unless we go deep, with a fleet of sea exploration vessels. We need a national agency with the stated goal of exploring, mapping, and studying the oceans.
Well, maybe it isn't all that terrible that the U.S. hasn't figured out how to exploit the resources of the oceans. That keeps them somewhat intact. Or just accessible to nations that are more concerned about the environment than the U.S. regime.
Japan is already there, having created the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center, which secures rights to deep-sea minerals, territories, and potential food sources. Its Deep Star program has even taken an early lead in DNA recovery: It's already working with the biotech industry to develop pharmaceuticals. Meanwhile, we're still combing the rain forests and wishing upon a star.