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Entry for September 20, 2007

I will soon land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. The 26 hours of flying from Boston (via Chicago and Hong Kong), gives one a lot of time to think about the differences between oceanographers of old and modern ones. In the beginning days, the late 1800s and early 1900s, oceanographers would travel to the nearest harbor, board a vessel for a voyage that would last months or years. (Many consider the world-wide scientific voyage of the British sailing ship HMS Challenger between 1872-1876 as the start of oceanography).

Research Vessel

But today, we enter aluminum aircraft tubes, climb tens of thousands of feet into the air, fly to remote parts of the planet, board a vessel and conduct our studies. We then scramble back onto the planes to return home. It would have been inconceivable to my predecessors in oceanography that such feats could be achieved.

But we left the cool Boston autumn for the hot humid air of Manila, Philippines to gather the expedition team together, board our research vessel, HYDROGRAPHER PRESBITERO, and sail for three days through warm clear equatorial waters to the ancient and deep Celebes Sea. The 200 foot vessel is owned and operated by the Philippine government’s National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, one of our primary partners.

On board the vessel is advanced oceanographic gear, carefully packed and shipped to Manila many weeks ago. Along with an array of nets are SCUBA diving gear, cameras, computers, and other tools of the oceanographic trade. But the center piece technology of this expedition is a deep sea robot that we can control from the ship and send down over 12,000 feet of cable to explore the deep recess of the Celebes Sea. It is called a Remotely Operated Vehicle or ROV. An ROV is a mainstay of how we explore the oceans.

More important than the technology are the 59 people that will make up the expedition team including the Philippine crew to operate the ship (29), the American technicians and ROV operators to keep all the high tech gear going (7), National Geographic film crew (2), National Geographic photographer (1), US Embassy-Manila science officer (1), representative from the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric administration (1), along with the scientists, graduate students and critical personnel to support the mission. I am one of the four principal scientists and have also been assigned the task of writing a National Geographic article on our voyage and discoveries in this unique ecosystem.