UT Scientist Explores Eastern Mediterranean Ocean

Jennifer Berke

A UT senior research scientist will be spending the next eight days exploring the Mediterranean waters from offshore Haifa to offshore Gaza Strip.

Senior research scientist James Austin Jr. from the Institute for Geophysics will study the geologic evolution of Israel’s continental margin next week. Austin said he and his team will also be studying biological communities that often develop along interesting geological features such as faults and canyons while aboard the E/V Nautilus, which has a satellite dish that allows them to transmit live video feed on the Internet. Depending on what they find, the area may be designated as a deep-water marine sanctuary, he said.

“Our purpose is to study the area through means of ocean exploration,” Austin said.

Working in part with Robert Ballard, the well-known oceanographer who discovered the sunken Titanic, Austin will use Nautilis Live to webcast a live scientific expedition. People can use Nautilis Live to view live video feeds and submit questions 24 hours a day. The website also posts current statuses, photos, schedules and introduces team members.

“Bob Ballard owns Nautilus,” Austin said. “He preaches the three ‘E’s’ — education, excitement and exploration. We all buy into his vision. He and I have been friends and colleagues since the 1970s.”

Austin said he used Nautilus and its remote-operated vehicles to study this margin in September 2010. The Israelis wanted them to continue their work and revisit the area, and so they’re back, he said.

Biology sophomore Richard Gillett said he thought the way the project was being broadcast was very interesting.

“Anything that allows people to see what’s going on is pretty cool,” Gillett said. “There’s a big difference between hearing things and actually being able to see them.”

Austin said he will be using ROVs, Remotely Operated Vehicles, which are connected to the ship to get electrical power but still have a lot of flexibility. He said he will also collect high-definition video, samples of both biology and geology, and will use the two ROVs in a 3-D towing arrangement to see actual underwater spaces near the seafloor.

“It sounds so awesome,” biology sophomore Christa Cook said. “They’re really far away, so it’s cool they can connect.”

Published on Thursday, November 10, 2011 as: UT scientist explores, studies Mediterranean marine world