Oceans of Opportunity

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'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiThe last several months, and particularly the past couple of weeks have been nothing short of mind numbing…in hindsight, in my opinion anyway, bringing the Exosuit full online and science-mission ready has been nothing short of a monumental task in a relatively short timeframe. While one mission has been triaged for a short time, mission #2 is fast approaching: the Return to Antikythera.

Among the fortunate few who have had the opportunity to work with the suit at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution this spring and summer were the team members of this 2014 Antikythera Expedition. I had the fortunate opportunity to train the Chief Scientist, Brendan Foley, his colleagues from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, and representatives of the Greek Navy, in prep for this fall’s project.

The mission for this fall – dive, dive, dive, and accumulate as many up close and personal hours on the wreck site as humanly possible. At depths of 60 to 100 meters, the site is indeed within more conventional reach, however productive bottom time for the working scientists has remained a bottleneck. The Exosuit will likely solve that problem, and afford unparalleled interpretation of the site by the team’s archaeologists to guide further detailed survey and excavation. It is anticipated that one week of Exosuit operations will provide for more bottom time at this site than has ever been conducted. That alone opens up the promise for new discoveries – perhaps even a new Antikythera Mechanism.

While at Woods Hole, we also discussed the potential need to carefully collect artifacts. This was a challenge in advance preparations, as we just aren’t sure what type of artifacts or antiquities may need to be collected – big, small, buried, tough, or fragile – this remains a question mark. Given these varied anticipated items, on one 2.5 hour proficiency dive, I focused my effort on working ‘belly down’ and within a very small area, simply crab walking using my arms and manipulators, and doing some selective sampling of various rocks and other items on the bottom. I was very pleased with the results in that staying belly down, with my face very close to the work, and being able to selectively sample with some degree of grace was just one reassuring demonstration that ADS may offer the versatility needed for the job – again ‘the Human Element’ at work and far superseding the capabilities of submersibles and other robotics.

The Antikythera mechanism itself has been a focal point of study, and even an obsession, by scholars for more than a century, as it stands alone separated by over a thousand years of lost art before comparable innovations are reintroduced to modern civilization. Where did it come from?

 As our new friends at the Greek Navy have indicated, diving is a central element to Greek culture, and putting the Exosuit to work for the first time in Greece while expanding upon a lineage of archaeological work that so deeply impacts their cultural heritage, this project will likely resonate for decades. I am actually more excited about the social and cultural exchange on this expedition than the diving – and that’s a bold statement coming from yours truly.

With the equipment loaded up and now en route across the Atlantic, we’re winding down mission planning to ensure a safe and productive few weeks on site. While I usually spend time with the biology crowd, I must say that I am looking forward to dipping my toe into underwater archaeology.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing various dispatches from this epic journey to Antikythera, as we dive through time to reveal something about our past, our present, and quite likely our future.

The author acknowledges the J.F. White Contracting Company for reaching out to the science community to afford new opportunities for discovery with the Exosuit, and Hublot for their sponsorship of the Exosuit operation. More about the the Return to Antikythera Project can be found here: http://antikythera.whoi.edu/. 

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