It's a tiny fraction of NOAA's budget and indispensable as a research station, but its days are numbered.
Several miles offshore from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, roughly sixty feet below the ocean's surface, sits the last operating undersea research lab in the world, Aquarius. It's been down there for a few decades and has morphed into a living reef, rich with life. This past Saturday six aquanauts dove down into Aquarius' belly for a final week of prolonged deep water research.
Despite its value in research on climate change and the rapidly altering condition of our oceans, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to pull the plug on Aquarius. NOAA's annual budget is in the range of $5 billion, while Aquarius has long scraped by on $2.5 million. As Ben Hellwarth points out, "were the U.S. to pull out of the International Space Station, a tidal wave of tweets and headlines would declare the end of an era and decry the scaling back of our national ambition." The decision to mothball Aquarius, though, is making little waves.
Brian Lam over at Gizmodo embedded with the Aquarius crew and sent a colorful dispatch from the depths. "It looked like an Airstream—if an Airstream was designed to be towed behind a nuclear submarine," he writes. He investigated rations: three pounds of peanut M&Ms. No beer. The wi-fi network is unsecured, he reports with a wink, but with all seriousness, he concludes that if Aquarius closes, "there's no other habitat like this in the world which can allow for embedded observation over long periods of time."
Want to help save the Aquarius? Scroll to the bottom of this page and sign the petition adressed to President Obama and Gary Goeke, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Department of the Interior.
Photo courtesy of Brian Lam