When deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard found the muddy hull of the
USS Yorktown three miles down in the Pacific Ocean near Midway Atoll
in late May, the world cheered another conquest of the deep.
It was Dr. Ballard, after all, who found Titanic in 1985 and
brought back eerie footage of the vessel - a discovery that inspired
James Cameron to make the now-epic Hollywood movie.
But the hit movie and the Yorktown - which the Japanese torpedoed
in 1942 at the battle of Midway - are just two blips on the ever-
crowded screen of deep-water exploration.
Indeed, undersea discovery is entering a new era. Oil
exploration, underwater archaeology, telecommunications, and drug
research are fueling the boom. New technology is enabling it to
happen. The coming years promise even more deep-water advances -
everything from grease- cutting laundry detergents based on
deep-water microbes to tourists getting an on-the-scene glimpse of
Even as government funding for deep-sea research shrinks, the buzz
around the field portends an influx of private funds as mankind
to tap the resources of the deep. "There has been a lot of
excitement generated about the deep-ocean recently," says Jeff
chief scientist at Diversa, a San Diego biotech firm that
in deep-water exploration. "And investors are going to be influenced
by what they hear."
Much of the deep-sea success is due to scientists like Bruce
Applegate, a geophysicist who specializes in deep-sea mapping. Dr.
Appelgate and his University of Hawaii team helped find the Yorktown
by creating detailed sonar maps from a scanning submersible called
The 15-foot-long torpedo-shaped device was towed by a US Navy ship
at a depth of 330 feet. The maps were accurate enough to allow
Ballard's team to quickly find the 855-foot ship in a 200-square-
area where the waters are a full mile deeper than those that hold
This was the first time Appelgate had searched for a sunken ship.
His past missions include examining deep-water fisheries and
maps for undersea fiber-optic cable links.
"With the explosion in telecom and the Internet, people are
putting fiber-optic cables all over the ocean," says Appelgate. He
and his colleagues are in hot demand -helping to plot courses for
cable projects totaling investments of billions of dollars.
The largest such effort is FLAG - a 17,000-mile, $1.5 billion
project that will span the globe with fiber-optic cable.
Also, advances in imaging technology and oil-extraction are
enabling oil firms to develop 3-D pictures of the earth beneath the
ocean floor. …