NOAA’s Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) is inspiring a new generation of explorers to discover the deep ocean. The Tampa Bay Chapter of SCUBAnauts International teamed with HURL to achieve the deep-sea portion of their “Operation: Deep Climb” mission to carry their banner and the Explorer’s Club flag from the depths of the ocean to outer space.
This trip has changed my life...Before this, I had never considered exploration, research, marine sciences or the military field. I have a new confidence in myself.– Anna Moran
In October, HURL pilot Max Cremer and HURL Operations Director Terry Kerby took SCUBAnauts Collin Olson and Anna Moran down 1,300 feet to visit the wreck of the historic Japanese WWII midget submarine off Pearl Harbor.
Olson, Moran, and seven other young SCUBAnauts also took their flag and banner on a three-day climb to the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on earth when measured from its seafloor base to summit.
Operation: Deep Climb will conclude when the space shuttle Endeavor enters space. The SCUBAnauts will witness the launch, and will watch as Mission Commander Dom Gorie unfolds the Explorer’s Club flag in the space shuttle and explains the importance of inner and outer space exploration.
With this expedition, the SCUBAnauts issue a call to other youths to push themselves into unfamiliar territory and reap the rewards of overcoming challenges. With Operation: Deep Climb, the SCUBAnauts set several records, including becoming the youngest viewers of the sunken Japanese midget sub and the first youth group to receive a permit to hike from the sea to the summit of Mauna Kea.
SCUBAnauts International, founded in 2001, uses SCUBA to teach leadership, earth sciences, engineering, mathematics and research skills to the next generation of scientists and engineers. All the members, aged 12-18, are science divers-in-training.
HURL saw the expedition as a chance to use the Pisces IV and V submersibles as teaching tools for the SCUBAnauts, and provided the diving experience at cost. Kerby said that both Moran and Olson were “truly in awe of the capability to observe and move freely on the bottom in the alien world of the deep sea.”
Olson recounted just that feeling when he first stepped into the Pisces V, where “it looked and felt as if I were in a space shuttle preparing for lift-off.”
During the dive, the Pisces IV and Pisces V submersibles employed sonar and located the Japanese midget submarine about a half hour after descending.
“Suddenly, the stern side of the midget sub was staring straight at us,” Olson remembered. “I thought about the actions that occurred the day it was sunk, and the fact that the two crew members of the midget sub are still entombed inside.”
HURL’s August 2002 discovery of the Japanese midget sub verified the account by the crew of the USS Ward they had seen and sunk a mini submarine prior to the air attack on Pearl Harbor. “The shot which sank this submarine was the first shot fired in WWII in the Pacific between the Americans and Japanese,” HURL Acting Director John Wiltshire explained
After the SCUBAnauts had viewed the midget sub, Kerby and Cremer piloted the research submarines into deeper water. En route to their lowest depth of 1,800 feet, the crews saw a deep-sea shark and an octopus, and picked up WWII-era ceramic mugs and soda bottles with the submersibles’ robotic arms. After six cramped hours in the 60-degree Pisces IV and V, they surfaced.
“This trip has changed my life,” said Moran. “Before this, I had never considered exploration, research, marine sciences or the military field. I have a new confidence in myself.”
Olson said the experience gave him a greater appreciation and respect for the work carried out by scientists, submersible pilots, and explorers, and the risks taken in doing so.
The SCUBAnauts made an impression on Wiltshire, too, who remarked that they were “keen high school students eager to explore the challenging world of the deep ocean.”
The expedition had been years in the making. Wildlife film producer and Explorer’s Club member Mark Fowler proposed Operation: Deep Climb to the SCUBAnauts in November 2006, having conceived of the idea several years before.
As the plan took shape, the SCUBAnauts sought the advice of Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Director Daniel J. Basta, who they had met through research dives in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Basta suggested that the group contact Wiltshire and Kerby, who had the expertise and equipment for the deep-sea part of the mission. The SCUBAnauts also arranged for instruction in Hawaii by NOAA maritime historian Hans Van Tilburg and NOAA maritime archaeologist Kelly Gleason.
On behalf of the Operation: Deep Climb expedition, Fowler applied for an official Explorer’s Club flag. The group was awarded flag #61, which, as one of the only 202 flags loaned to groundbreaking explorers across the world, has been traveling since 1935. Fowler and his company, Wild Life Productions, are documenting the nine SCUBAnauts’ expedition with plans to turn the footage into a television show.
“The SCUBAnauts are legitimate young scientists and advanced divers who have been doing real research in Florida,” Fowler said. “They are doing what most kids dream of doing – becoming the world’s next generation of spokespeople, scientists, and explorers.”
In October 2008, the SCUBAnauts plan to travel back to Hawaii for more dives with HURL, and hope to view undersea volcanic activity and the base of Mauna Kea.
Reflecting on the unique expedition, Kerby said, “I’d advise any group leader to get young people directly involved in science and discovery in any way they can, because I believe those experiences will certainly be more valuable, and will even be more exciting, than the best of video games.”
To read more about the historic Japanese midget submarine found by HURL in 2002, see http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/HURL/midget.html. To find out more about SCUBAnauts International, please visit http://www.scubanautsintl.org/index.html.