OceanGate accelerates research for its second Titanic expedition

Posted on
Titanic’s iconic bow stands out in an image from the Titanic Survey 2021 expedition. (Photo OceanGate)

A year after OceanGate’s first expedition to the wreckage of the Titanic, the Everett, Wash.-based company is gearing up for its second annual series of dives starting next week – and this time science will be at the center of attention.

Last summer’s expedition kicked off what was to be an annual series of visits to the 110-year-old ruin, nearly 13,000 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic. As any movie buff knowsthe Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912, killing more than 1,500 people.

The sinking was rediscovered in 1985, and there have been a series of crewed and robotic surveys since then. But The OceanGate Plan is different. The 13-year-old firm and its research partners aim to document how the rapidly deteriorating Titanic and its surroundings change from year to year – backed by clients who pay $250,000 each to be a part adventure.

The inaugural expedition of the Titanic Survey documented the wreck site in unprecedented detail, producing a baseline for tracking future changes. OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said the expedition was “a bit of a shakedown cruise”.

“We’ve had a lot of technical challenges that we don’t think we’ll have this year,” Rush said today during an online preview of the Titanic Survey 2022 expedition. “We’ve had weather challenges, we’ve had COVID challenges. So there are a lot of these things, but we still have the best images ever taken. »

This year, OceanGate’s science team will focus on the biology as well as the archeology of the Titanic’s resting place. In partnership with a Canadian company called eDNAtecthe crew aboard OceanGate’s Titan submersible will collect water samples for DNA analysis.

Fragments of environmental DNA, or eDNA, will be sequenced and analyzed using eDNAtec’s EnviroSeq technology. Beverly McClenaghan, senior ecologist at eDNAtec’s Center for Environmental Genomics Applications, said the technology is “really transforming the way we characterize ecosystems.”

“We can detect total biodiversity from environmental samples, whereas previously we had to use multiple methods to study an entire ecosystem,” she said.

Another member of the science team, a marine ecologist from the University of Edinburgh Anna Gebrouk, will focus on how deep-sea coral larvae are dispersed from the wreck. “To what extent could the Titanic wreck serve as a source of larvae for new populations? said Gebruk.

The expedition’s chief scientist, Steve Ross from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said such research could solve the deep mysteries of deep-sea ecosystems. “Wrecks and other hard structures represent islands of biodiversity,” Ross explained. “They create a different type of habitat in a place where that habitat may not have existed, and they attract animals. … So it potentially represents an improvement of the seabed in terms of habitat and productivity.

Ross said the scientific studies this year are almost certain to surprise.

“Some of the animals we observe are only known from dead specimens,” he said. “We will observe animals in their living situation. Perhaps for the first time we will be able to describe their colors and behaviors. It is also very possible that we will observe some species that are new to science.

Gebruk said data generated by Titanic studies will be shared openly with other researchers and the general public through the iAtlantic database.

Opportunities to study deep-sea habitats don’t come around that often, and it’s almost unheard of to be able to visit the same habitat year after year.

“One of the ways we’re able to support this kind of scientific research is by finding different ways to fund it,” Rush said. “We can take media, like we will this year and like we did last year, and film these wrecks and places. And we can get people who are willing to help fund the operation to participate. It gives us a completely different way of funding this and being able to go back to the Titanic and other sites every year.

This year’s expedition begins June 15, with shore operations based in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Canadian vessel Horizon Arctic will take the submersible Titan and the OceanGate crew between St. John’s and the wreck site on a series of five eight-day voyages.

“We expect to do somewhere between 10 and 25 dives, and that’s a really wide range due to weather,” Rush said. Each dive is expected to last around 10 hours, with half of that time spent at the wreck site and the other half in transit.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush and writer Kim Frank hold a biodegradable memorial wreath that commemorates the lives lost in the sinking of the Titanic. (Photo OceanGate)

Each dive will be crewed by a pilot, researcher and three mission specialists who each pay a six-figure fee for training and support.

“Everyone has a task to do, whether it’s mapping or photographing a certain coral,” Rush said. “But then there is an opportunity for general exploration. They can navigate around the debris field and search for other undiscovered objects.

OceanGate’s shipping season is due to end on July 25.

Over the past three and a half decades, thousands of artifacts have been recovered from the sinking of the Titanic. But that’s not on OceanGate’s expedition schedule. “We’re not picking anything up,” Rush said.

Instead, the OceanGate team will lay something: a memorial wreath.

“We actually have a little memorial service on every mission we go there, to make sure we remember that many people died at this site,” Rush said. “Our hope is to validate what happened by gaining as much knowledge as possible and maintaining an interest in the Titanic story.”

Check OceanGate’ Expeditions website for details of the Titanic Survey Expedition and OceanGate other underwater adventures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.