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SoCal man embarks on underwater journey

August 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Earth's surface is 71 percent water, yet most of the world's undersea depths remain unexplored. But one Southern California man is getting ready to embark on an underwater expedition around the world. Scott Cassell and his team will spend five years circumnavigating the globe -- that's 27,000 miles -- all underwater. They'll be in a tiny submarine, searching for new life and studying our impact on the world's climate and our oceans.

While some dream of an office with an ocean view, Scott Cassell dreams of being far below the deep blue sea.

"One half of one percent of ocean water has been explored, that leaves over 99 percent of it unseen by man," said Cassell. "The state of the oceans right now is becoming dire. We have systems that are failing all around the world; including fisheries that are failing."

Scott is hoping an around-the-world underwater journey will shed new light on climate change and its impact on the oceans. "The Undersea Voyager Project" recently completed its maiden voyage in and around Lake Tahoe. The voyage took in images that were very striking.

"Some of these trees are 2,000 years old and still standing straight up in the water. It was a beautiful, majestic sight to see our little submarine flying through this ancient forest," said Cassell, who feels the Undersea Voyager Project will be as scientifically important as the first steps on the moon.

"These trees are perfectly preserved. Inside rings of these trees, if you core sample them, they found that they can determine exact level of oxygen that was in the air 2,000 years ago. How many rain cycles occurred over the years," said Cassell.

Cassell says there potentially is a new species of life living on those trees. Cassell says the species is not a fungus, algae or animal, but has attributes of each.

"It's a single, cellular life form that creates these colonies that look like a jellyfish," said Cassell. "Looking at these things is like looking back millions of years in time."

Cassell's team found evidence of prehistoric earthquakes and tsunamis; including evidence of glaciers that fell into Lake Tahoe, which set off a mega-tsunami 7,000 years ago.

"Hundreds of thousands of tons of ice that slammed into the ocean, that created this 100-meter wave that actually traveled 20 miles across Lake Tahoe and back," said Cassell. "That was incredibly catastrophic and they're saying it could in fact happen again."

Cassell's fascination with the ocean started when he watched the film based on Jules Verne's classic "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" when he was just 6 years old.

Scott hopes to inspire the next generation of explorers and scientists by including them in his adventures.

"In Lake Tahoe we actually had four 14-year-old science students learn how to fly the sub, and actually were taught the scientific method of data collection," said Cassell. "So these kids learned how to operate the sub, how to maintain the sub."

The Undersea Voyager Project hopes to bring those lessons directly into classrooms around the world.

"Our goal is to have live transmissions of dives so that teachers can talk to their classrooms in real time and take questions from hundreds of feet underwater," said Cassell.

Most importantly, Cassell hopes the Undersea Voyager Project will help get the word out about how pollution is changing the chemistry of our oceans. The oceans absorb about a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuel, which has led to a 30-percent increase in ocean acidity.

"It's been said that between 25 and 50 years the acidification is going to get so toxic that the planktons will die in the sea. And not only is that the foundation of life in the ocean, it also creates 71 percent of the earth's oxygen," said Cassell. "The acidification of the oceans will almost certainly create a mass extinction of almost every mammal species on the planet."

The Undersea Voyager Project is still raising money for their journey around the world. In the meantime, they're planning several smaller expeditions including one to the great pacific garbage patch, which is a vortex of trash 1,000 miles off the California coast. The vortex is estimated to be the size of Texas.

If you would like to contact the Undersea Voyager Project, or would like to make a donationto the foundation that will fund the expedition, you can e-mail Scott Cassell at scott@underseavoyager.org .

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