Right Under Our Nose

In the past year, there has been a fair amount of interest in space. We’ve had some recent close calls with an asteroid and a meteor, generating plenty of interest in what lies beyond our atmosphere.

The Mars Curiosity Rover landed last year and there have been recent announcements about a manned Mars flyby and eventual colonization.

mars

Space has been the last great frontier for decades, but another frontier is actually right under our nose.

One that is so large and immense, and yet more or less unexplored, despite its relative accessibility compared to space. The oceans.

Robert Ballard, ocean explorer and discoverer of the Titanic, observed, “The mid-ocean ridge…covers 23 percent of the Earth’s total surface area. Almost a quarter of our planet is a single mountain range and we didn’t enter it until after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the moon. So we went to the moon, played golf up there, before we went to the largest feature on our own planet.”

He compares the budgets of agencies related to space and the oceans.

“If you compare NASA’s annual budget to explore the heavens, that one-year budget would fund NOAA’s budget to explore the oceans for 1,600 years.”

The prospect of finding a record of life on Mars is compelling, but creatures that seem as bizarrely alien and fascinating as we’d ever dream to find a record of on the red planet await our discovery and study in the ocean depths right now.

Edith Widder, a specialist in bioluminescence, descended in a submersible suit into the Santa Barbara Channel about 800 feet in complete darkness and turned her lights off.

She observed, “I saw chains of jellyfish called siphonophores that were longer than this room, pumping out so much light that I could read the dials and gauges inside the suit without a flashlight; and puffs and billows of what looked like luminous blue smoke; and explosions of sparks that would swirl up out of the thrusters — just like when you throw a log on a campfire and the embers swirl up off the campfire, but these were icy, blue embers. It was breathtaking.”

Space exploration dominates any comparison in funding with ocean exploration, and while we should continue to push the boundaries in space, we can start to recognize that the ocean may also bring beneficial scientific breakthroughs, some of them perhaps more alien than we even imagined from Mars.

Bioluminescence

Sometimes, in an effort to solve problems and find solutions, we fixate on distant goals and objectives.

The enormity of the effort might seem to legitimize the perceived benefits. In our own non-scientific pursuits, we can introspectively ask if there aren’t solutions or resources much closer than we thought at first.

While we personally continue to “pursue Mars,” we should consider the paradigm that might cause us to overlook “our oceans” and the abundance of potential right under our nose.

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