Oceans

The Day –New Seaport exhibit showcases work of local ocean exploration firm

Mystic — A new exhibit has opened at Mystic Seaport Museum that showcases the technology developed by the locally based Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration and its expeditions.

Visitors to the exhibit in the Clift Block Building can watch a live feed from GFOE’s current expeditions off North Carolina to shipwrecks from the US Civil War, such as the ironclad USS Monitor, as well as wrecks from World War I and the World War II Battle of the Atlantic, in which German U-boats attacked Allied merchant vessels.

They also can see a wide variety of fish that now occupy the wrecks, which have become artificial reefs for marine life.

During a tour of the exhibit Thursday, Laurie Bradt, GFOE’s director of administration and an exhibit designer, said that while many people are familiar with the attractions of the country’s national park system, many are unaware of the 17 locations that comprise the national marine sanctuary system, which is the undersea version of the park system.

When the expedition to the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, called “Valor in the Atlantic,” ends later this month, visitors will be able to watch GFOE’s next expedition, which involves mapping the Atlantic sea floor from Newfoundland to the Azores, including the mid- Atlantic Ridge — the largest mountain range in the world.

Bradt said the lights and camera systems aboard the remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, also will reveal the colorful marine life that inhabits the dark.

“People will see things they would never see anywhere else,” Bradt said.

The work of GFOE, which is based at Mystic Seaport, has been getting attention recently, as it played a major role in finding the wreck of the only known whaling ship sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as developing new telepresence technology that allows a pilot at it facility in Quonset Point, RI, to drive an ROV in the Florida Keys — 1,600 miles away and more than a mile below the surface, with only a 1.25-second delay.

GFOE also has been involved in a multiyear search for the Bonhomme Richard, John Paul Jones’ legendary Revolutionary War ship that sank off the coast of Scotland.

Being located at the Seaport, Bradt said it was the perfect location to tell people what GFOE does. “When visitors come here, they will learn what we do, how we do it and where we do it,” she said. “Anywhere we are in the world, we can be live on TV. “

She said visitors will learn about the technology GFOE has developed, the people who are using it, the research vessels and what they are looking for. “So it’s not just what we are doing but how we are doing it,” she said.

Panels explain all these aspects of GFOE for visitors. In addition, there are three more monitors that show its past discoveries, marine life it’s found and GFOE’s work exploring hydrothermal events in Yellowstone Lake using its ROV Yogi. The heated water near the vents create a habitat different from the rest of the lake.

One part of the exhibit asks GFOE team members why they do what they do.

“We hope students and young people who come in here who have an interest in ocean exploration will find something inspiring and may pursue it as a career,” Bradt said.

She pointed out there’s not just careers for engineers and scientists but roles for writers, videographers and photographers.

She said visitors also will see that “we’re women, people of color, a broad range of people.”

Bradt said she hopes visitors to the exhibit and the museum will see that maritime history doesn’t just involve whaling ships but there are people today exploring on modern-day ships.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “does this and it’s financed by your tax dollars. It’s helping us understand what is going on in our oceans and how to protect the environment,” she said.

Also on display is XBot, a small ROV built by GFOE that can dive to a depth of 6,000 meters, or 3.7 miles down.

The exhibit is set to run through the end of August but Bradt said GFOE hopes the museum will extend its run.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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