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OceanGate sets titanic record with 4-person dive

OceanGate Titan crew
The crew of OceanGate’s Titan submersible gets set for a dive of Titanic proportions. From left are Karl Stanley, Petros Mathioudakis, pilot Stockton Rush and Joel Perry. (OceanGate Photo)

OceanGate set a deep-diving record last week when a crew of four rode inside the Everett, Wash.-based company’s Titan submersible to the Titanic-level depth of 3,760 meters (12,336 feet) in the Bahamas.

The April 17 voyage, which served as a test run for this summer’s trips to the wreck of the Titanic, marked the first time a non-military submersible carried more than three people to that depth, OceanGate said.

“This dive was another important step toward deep-sea exploration to more people and places,” OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who served as Titan’s chief pilot for the trip, said today in a news release. “We are developing technologies and designing submersibles and infrastructure that is making underwater exploration more accessible than ever before.”

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Paul Allen’s research vessel finds the USS Hornet

Hornet gun
This 5-inch gun is part of the wreckage from the USS Hornet. (Photo courtesy of Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)

Chalk up another historic shipwreck discovery for the Petrel, the research vessel funded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen: This time it’s the USS Hornet, the World War II aircraft carrier that was sunk by Japanese forces in 1942.

The Hornet is best-known as the launching point for the Doolittle Raid, the first airborne attack on the Japanese home islands after Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into the war. Led by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the raid in April 1942 provided a boost to American morale and put Japan on alert about our covert air capabilities.

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Paul Allen’s deep legacy: Japanese shipwreck found

Hiei shipwreck
Guns of the Japanese battleship Hiei lie on the bottom of the Pacific. (© Navigea Ltd. / R/V Petrel via Vulcan)

A wide-ranging shipwreck survey funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is continuing after his death, and the latest discovery focuses on the Japanese battleship Hiei, which sank in the South Pacific during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942.

Japanese researchers picked up the sonar signature of the wreck off the Solomon Islands a year ago, sparking a voyage by the Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel to check out the site and get the first on-the-scene underwater views.

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Disease and warming seas are wiping out sea stars

Dying sea star
A dying sunflower sea star sits on the seafloor. (Ed Gullekson Photo via Science)

Warming oceans and an infectious wasting disease have combined to devastate what was once an abundant type of sea stars along the West Coast, scientists say in a newly published study.

The study, published today by the open-access journal Science Advances, provides fresh evidence for the climate-related decline of multiple species of sea stars, a class of marine invertebrates popularly known as starfish.

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Research robots survive a year under Antarctic ice

Seaglider deployment
Researchers deploy a Seaglider underwater drone from the South Korean icebreaker Araon in January 2018. (Paul G. Allen Philanthropies / UW APL / Columbia LDEO)

It’s been a year since a squadron of underwater robots was sent out to monitor the underside of Antarctica’s Dotson Ice Shelf, and researchers report that the whole squad has survived the harsh southern winter.

Except for one unfortunate battery-powered drone, that is.

“The one that hasn’t come back, it could be any number of things,” said Jason Gobat, a senior principal oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. Maybe something broke, or maybe it got stuck in the silt at the bottom of the sea.

The good news is that two other Seaglider drones are continuing to transmit data via satellite. Four free-floating EM-APEX probes have been heard from as well.

Craig Lee, another senior principal oceanographer at the UW lab, said getting useful scientific data from the robo-squadron amounts to mission success for the research project known as Ocean Robots Beneath Ice Shelves, or ORBIS.

The experiment, supported with nearly $2 million in funding from Seattle’s Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, has shown that the robots can use acoustic signals to navigate their way under the ice shelf, monitor the water that flows into and out of the ice shelf’s subsurface cavity, and keep operating for a whole year.

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Climate change doom teaches lesson for today

Permian-Triassic extinction
An artist’s conception shows the desolation caused by the Permian-Triassic extinction more than 250 million years ago. (LPI / USRA Illustration)

Scientists say rapidly warming oceans played a key role in the world’s biggest mass extinction, 252 million years ago, and could point to the risks that lie ahead in an era of similarly rapid climate change.

The latest analysis, published in this week’s issue of the journal Science, puts together computer modeling of ancient ocean conditions and a close look at species characteristics to fit new pieces into a longstanding puzzle: What were the factors behind the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, also known as the Great Dying?

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Ships set sail to trace tiny creatures’ carbon trail

R/V Sally Ride
With Scripps Institution of Oceanography research scientist Bruce Appelgate as their guide, participants in a NASA Social meet-up walk down Seattle’s Pier 91 with the R/V Sally Ride in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

After seven years of preparation, two research vessels are heading out of Seattle to begin a 40-day voyage to track how tiny organisms in the ocean affect the world’s carbon balance — and it’s a bittersweet moment for one scientist who’s staying behind.

“People ask me, ‘Are you happy?’ ” Paula Bontempi, EXPORTS program scientist at NASA Headquarters, said today at Seattle’s Pier 91, hours before departure. “I don’t know. Are you happy when your kids go off to college?”

It’s graduation time for the EXPORTS oceanographic campaign, jointly funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation. EXPORTS stands for Export Processes in the Ocean from Remote Sensing, but the mission is really about two subjects that aren’t in the acronym: carbon and climate.

The principal focus of the sea survey is a class of near-microscopic plantlike creatures known as phytoplankton, and the slightly bigger creatures that eat them.

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OceanGate sub hits Titanic depth of 4,000 meters

Titan submersible
The Titan submersible rests on its underwater platform. (OceanGate Photo)

OceanGate successfully lowered its Titan submersible to a depth of 4,000 meters in waters off the coast of the Bahamas, during a series of uncrewed dives aimed at testing the integrity of the craft’s carbon-fiber hull. The Everett, Wash.-based team lowered the sub on a monofilament line on June 25 while sensors measured the strain on the hull. OceanGate CEO and chief pilot Stockton Rush will conduct solo dives later this summer in preparation for five-person dives to the wreck of the Titanic in the North Atlantic next June. The 4,000-meter milestone is significant because that’s how deep the Titanic is.

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What killed the birds? Scientists blame the Blob

Cassin's auklet
This Cassin’s auklet was found on Oregon’s Kiwanda Beach in 2014. (Patty Claussenius Photo / COASST)

Researchers have untangled the mystery behind a die-off that felled hundreds of thousands of tough seabirds known as Cassin’s auklets in 2014 and early 2015.

It’s not a simple answer: The proximate cause was starvation, but in a study published by Geophysical Research Letters, scientists report that the most likely root cause was an anomaly in Pacific Ocean circulation that came to be known as the Blob.

“This paper is super important for the scientific community because it nails the causality of a major die-off, which is rare,” senior author Julia Parrish, a marine scientist at the University of Washington and executive director of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, said today in a news release.

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Paul Allen marks Memorial Day in a deep-sea way

Lexington shipwreck
An image captured by a remotely operated vehcile from the R/V Petrel shows the barrel of a 5-inch gun on the USS Lexington. (Image courtesy of Paul G. Allen. Copyright Navigea Ltd.)

It’s traditional to revisit the gravesites of America’s fallen warriors on Memorial Day, but billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen is adding a non-traditional twist.

Today the co-founder of Microsoft is highlighting the work that he’s funded over the past couple of years to document the wrecks of historic warships — and not only U.S. ships, but naval vessels that flew the flags of Japan, Italy and Australia.

newly unveiled website celebrates the exploits of the Petrel, Allen’s research ship, and its remotely operated vehicle. But more importantly, it celebrates the sacrifices made by the crews of such venerable ships as the USS Indianapolis, the USS Lexington, the USS Juneau and the USS Helena.

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