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A New Age of Discovery

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This week, we brought to the Capitol a unique symbol of the power of curiosity and imagination used to surmount fantastic technological hurdles and explore the unknown. The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER is the only human-occupied vehicle currently able to reach the deepest part of the ocean, Challenger Deep, which it visited in 2012. Far from being out of its element on Capitol Hill, it instead serves as a stark reminder of a job left unfinished.

Although a dozen people have stood on the moon, only three have made the seven-mile journey to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. In fact, the vast majority of the world's ocean trenches, comprising an area larger than Australia, remain unexplored and largely unknown to us. We explored outward to the moon and outer space at the end of the 20th century, but we entered the 21st century managing to overlook this continent-size frontier right on our own planet.

On its way from Los Angeles to its eventual home at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, the sub has stopped to give young people a chance to see, touch and, more importantly, to imagine themselves exploring the unknown and following their dreams.

It's not starry-eyed dreaming we hope to stir in our nation's children. As the next generation of scientists, engineers, teachers, business owners, and political leaders, their enthusiasm for exploration, for taking risks, and for scientific discovery is vital to our continued international leadership, national security and economic growth.

Maritime economic activities, from shipping to energy production to recreation, contributed $258 billion and 2.8 million jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010. In addition, the ocean provides half of the oxygen we breathe, holds a wealth of food and natural resources, and regulates Earth's climate and weather patterns. And yet, much of what goes on beneath the surface remains invisible to us. The only way we can learn about this vast yet crucial part of our planet is to literally submerge ourselves in it, an act that comes at considerable cost and risk.

The transfer of DEEPSEA CHALLENGER to Woods Hole is one of a growing breed of partnerships between private entrepreneurs and scientists intended to reveal the mysteries of the ocean. But private investment in science builds on a foundation of public support. The scientists and engineers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and other ocean research centers around the nation are poised to take the breakthroughs embodied in the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER to the next level, but they are dependent on public and political recognition that the ocean, which covers more than two-thirds of the face of the planet and touches virtually every aspect of daily life, is worthy of focused and sustained study.

Advances in ocean science have served for decades to drive biomedical, technological, and national security advances. When DEEPSEA CHALLENGER successfully returned from the deepest part of the ocean, it brought back samples that are even now revealing tantalizing findings -- including evidence of unique adaptations to life in harsh environments and a new species of microbe that may hold promise in treating Alzheimer's disease. Deep-sea trenches are also dynamic places that could hold clues to the evolution of life on Earth, as well as greater understanding of earthquakes and tsunamis that, as we know from recent experience in Japan and elsewhere, have devastating impacts for people around the globe. Scientific research and technological developments, particularly of new sensors, methods, and robotic vehicles, also provides a foundation for the ability to respond to crises such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and carry out forensic investigations of shipwrecks and downed commercial airliners.

We brought the sub to the nation's capital as a symbol of the crucial need for greater investment in ocean research and the technologies that permit long-term, sustained observation of our changing ocean. We also hope to carry a message directly to the hearts and minds of young people: that they live in a new Age of Exploration, one that will flourish with their curiosity and desire to learn.

DEEPSEA CHALLENGER proves that the deepest part of the ocean is within our reach, but many others, including much of the Arctic and Southern Oceans, vast stretches of the open ocean, and the ocean through time, remain under-studied. As a result, the sub's presence reminds us how little we have explored our ocean, how much we have yet to learn about our planet, and how desperately we need to develop the human, scientific and technological resources to do so.

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James Cameron has logged more than 3,000 hours underwater, is a veteran of 85 submersible dives, most of them to depths greater than two miles, and of eight oceanographic expeditions. Beginning with his film The Abyss in 1989, Cameron has advanced underwater cinematography and robotics during the production of numerous features and marine documentaries. In 1995, he made 12 manned-submersible dives to the Titanic wreck for his movie of the same name, which won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and broke the record for global box office hits. (Titanic's earnings have only been surpassed by Cameron's 2009 film, Avatar, still the box office leader.) In May 2002, Cameron piloted his robotic cameras inside the wreck of the DKM Bismarck, at a depth of 16,000 feet, for the documentary Expedition Bismarck. He has continued to evolve and improve on innovations in fiber-optic-spooling mini-ROVs, deep-ocean lighting, and photographic technologies for subsequent underwater documentaries including Ghosts of the Abyss in 2003, Aliens of the Deep in 2005, and the forthcoming DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D. The film utilizes and builds on the 3D technology and camera systems Cameron and engineering partner, Vince Pace, developed in 1999 that form the basis of their 3D technologies and services company, the CAMERON | PACE Group.

Cameron is an Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic and a member of the Deep Submersible Pilots Association. He has contributed to a number of robotic space exploration projects and, for three years, served on the NASA Advisory Council. Cameron is the founder of the Avatar Alliance Foundation, a non-profit aimed at addressing climate change, the destruction of the natural world, and the loss of indigenous land and culture.

Susan K. Avery is President and Director, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). She came to Woods Hole from the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder (UCB), where she served in interim positions as Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, as well as Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. She was on the faculty at UCB for 26 years, most recently holding the academic rank of professor of electrical and computer engineering and Fellow in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). She also served as director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at UCB from 1994 to 2004, where she facilitated interdisciplinary research spanning the geosciences and social sciences, established a Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, and a K-12 outreach program. Her research interests include atmospheric circulation and precipitation, the development of new radar techniques and instruments for observing the atmosphere, and the role of climate science in decision support. Avery is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and of the American Meteorological Society, for which she also served as president.

Dr. Avery's current position and her background in atmospheric research enable her to promote the importance of understanding the Earth as a system connected by ocean, atmosphere, terrestrial, and human interactions. She communicates the importance of ocean observing systems, the role of the ocean in a changing climate, ecosystem approaches to understanding and managing multiple uses of the ocean, and the need to legally protect the scientific deliberative process.

Dr. Avery serves on national and international boards and committees, including the US Advisory Committee to the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission; the NRC Global Change Research Program Advisory Committee and the Board on Higher Education and Workforce; the NOAA Science Advisory Board; the Consortium of Ocean Leadership Board; and the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act Implementation Advisory Committee. She is active in professional societies and serves on academic and research program review committees.