OceanGate explorers solve a 26-year mystery and document life near the Titanic

Corals and other creatures live on a reef near the Titanic. (Photos from OceanGate expeditions)

During an expedition to the Titanic in 1996, submarine pilot PH Nargeolet noticed a curious sonar signal coming from a site near the wreck. Was it a piece of scrap ever detected? An unexplored geological feature?

Twenty-six years ago, the pilot was unable to investigate further. But now a completely different Titanic expedition has solved the mystery, with Nargeolet being part of the team.

Data collected during this summer’s dives by Everett, Washington State-based OceanGate and Bahamas-based OceanGate Expeditions, plus scientific analysis backed by the nonprofit OceanGate Foundation, reveal that the blip came from a ridge. volcanic that serves as a home for corals and sponges and other inhabitants of the deep sea.

“On sonar, this could have been any number of things, including the potential for it to be another shipwreck,” Nargeolet said in a press release today. “I looked for a chance to explore this large object that appeared on the sonar a long time ago. It was great to explore this area and find this fascinating volcanic formation teeming with so much life. “

The 9,500-foot-deep and 330-foot-long basalt formation was tentatively named Nargeolet-Fanning Ridge. That name recognizes the roles played by Nargeolet and Oisin Fanning, an Irish energy industry executive who served as a mission specialist on this year’s OceanGate expedition.

“When I learned of the possibility of a dive to unravel the mystery of what was seen on the sonar … I knew I wanted to be part of the effort,” said Fanning, who paid to participate in the expedition. “It is a privilege to work with OceanGate Expeditions, OceanGate Foundation and the science team to better understand what lies deep beneath the surface of our oceans.”

This summer marked the second season of research for OceanGate Expeditions and its science team. Last year’s dives in OceanGate’s Titan submarine focused on documenting the state of the 110-year-old Titanic sinking, left behind by one of history’s most famous tragedies at sea. This year, scientists continued their study of the wreck, but also took on the task of cataloging the surrounding marine life.

The discovery of Nargeolet-Fanning Ridge was one of the highlights of this year’s research season, according to Steve Ross, chief scientist at OceanGate Expeditions.

“This discovery will improve the way we think about the biodiversity of the abyss,” said Ross, a research professor at the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. “The apparently basaltic volcanic formations are remarkable and we are amazed by the diversity and density of sponges, bamboo corals, other cold water corals, squat lobsters and fish that thrive at 2,900 meters deep in the North Atlantic Ocean.”

Ross said the ridge should provide new data points in studying deep-sea ecosystems. “The variety of life forms, the concentration of life and ecosystems in general may differ between the Titanic’s deep artificial reef and this newly revealed natural reef,” she noted.

Click on the OceanGate images from the submarine and the seabed:

Murray Roberts, a marine biologist at the University of Edinburgh who is also part of the OceanGate team, said he and his colleagues will analyze photos and videos as well as DNA extracted from water samples collected in the reef.

“Scientists have always been amazed at how far sponges and corals have spread into the ocean,” Roberts said. “We are running computer simulations to understand this better and I expect these unexplored rocky areas to be crucial in explaining how these animals can disperse across the vast distances of the deep muddy bottom.”

The findings will be shared with the scientific community and policy makers “to make sure these vulnerable ecosystems receive the proper attention and protection they deserve,” said Roberts. The data generated by the Titanic studies will be shared openly with other researchers and the general public via the iAtlantic database.

OceanGate Expeditions is already planning to return next year to the Titanic site, with seats available for mission specialists who can join the adventure for $ 250,000. The company also offers scuba diving at the “Tongue of the Ocean” in the Great Bahama Bank and at the hydrothermal vents of the Azores.

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