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Deep-water discovery

Last December, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science researchers using advanced sonar techniques discovered new deepwater reef sites in the Straits of Florida between Miami and Bimini. Today through May 30, the Rosenstiel School scientists will work with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution colleagues to explore these areas for the first time. The expedition, which will rely on Harbor Branch's Johnson-Se-Link II submersible, will search for and collect marine organism samples from these new reefs in 2,000-2,900 feet of water to determine which produce chemicals with the potential to treat human diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer's disease. The State of Florida's "Florida Oceans Initiative" is the primary project funder.

"The reef raises important issues and questions," said Dr. Mark Grasmueck, a Rosenstiel School professor. "How a reef like this sustains itself without sunlight, without obvious energy and nourishment--it's a unique ecosystem. I find myself putting aside other work to pursue this further as I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Researchers have suspected since the 1970s that deep reefs lay undiscovered between Miami and Bimini because pieces of reef-building corals had been brought up using surface-operated, dredge-and-grab sampling equipment. However, just as the vast majority of the ocean remains poorly mapped and unexplored ?even off Miami ?these potentially important areas remained unseen.

In December 2005, as part of the NOAA Ocean Exploration program, Rosenstiel School researchers, led by Professors Grasmueck and Gregor Eberli, began mapping deepwater habitats off Miami and Bimini using advanced sonar technology and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). AUVs operate without a tether to the surface and are pre-programmed to independently perform tasks. These researchers believe this is the first time an AUV has been used for mapping deepwater coral reefs. AUVs ha
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Source:University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science


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