An internet tycoon’s private undersea exploration team recently recovered Apollo rockets on the ocean floor. Amazon.com creator and space fan Jeff Bezos described the Atlantic Ocean discovery as “an incredible sculpture garden” and “an underwater wonderland.”
Bezos’ underwater discovery highlights the sea’s capacity to hide all kinds of extraordinary relics. Join us on a tour of some of the greatest underwater discoveries ever made.
On Sept. 1, 1985, underwater pioneer Robert Ballard found the world’s most notorious shipwreck, the Titanic. The monster vessel once thought unsinkable sat mostly complete 12,000 ft. under the waves off the coast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Titanic went under in April 1912. After years of guesswork that resulted in scientists seeing nothing but empty blue space, Ballard headed to the area where the Titanic went down in the US Navy ship the Knorr. Ballard and his team then sent a robot craft called the Argo some 13,000 ft. down to the North Atlantic Ocean’s floor. The Argo was armed with a remote-controlled camera and powerful lights that cut through the darkness. On the day of the underwater discovery, the Argo relayed the first shots of the Titanic. Ballard later returned to the spot in the submersible Alvin and shot more footage. Other oceanographers followed. Finally, a company called RMS Titanic Inc. gathered over 5,500 curios ranging from china dishes to leather trunks stuffed with preserved bank notes.
Photo Credit: thekeithhall / Flickr.com
In Jul. 2012, divers working with science teams from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland discovered “Britain’s Atlantis” – a concealed submerged world gobbled up by the North Sea. The lost world, Doggerland – a vast swath of dry land was gradually swamped by water between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC. In its day, the lost world apparently hosted tens of thousands of people. Speculation suggests it might once have been the nerve center of Europe, covering an area extending from Northern Scotland to Denmark and down the English Channel as far as the Channel Islands. Geophysicists, archaeologists and climatologists, who charted the North sea zone, drawing on intel provided by oil companies exposed the full size of the lost world that mammoths once prowled. According to researchers, the region was smashed and submerged by a ferocious tsunami. Now, all that remains are gritty mounds ringed by ditches and hardened seafloor tree stumps.
In Feb. this year, British scientists combing the ocean floor in the Caribbean discovered a set of hydrothermal vents that they described as “astounding.” The vents were reportedly the deepest that had ever come to light. Video images sent back live to the research ship mounting the mission exposed skinny chimneys up to 30ft. high, spewing black water – an eye-popping sight. The research mission, financed by the Natural Environment Research Council, was mounted from a British research ship, the James Cook, named for the 18th century adventurer who roamed the Pacific. The mission’s chief scientist, Dr. Jon Copley of the National Oceanography Centre, told BBC News that at first his team thought that the site was familiar. “But eventually we realized it looked different because it was different,” Dr. Copley said. The beauty of operating deep in the ocean is that you’re always making new finds, he added. That’s especially true now, thanks to advances in tracking technology.
Perhaps the most exciting kind of underwater discovery that ever hits the news is that of a sunken wreck full of treasure. Take for example the “Black Swan” shipwreck found by Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration. Discovered in May, 2007, it was touted as the richest shipwreck of all time. It contained over 500 Million USD worth of gold and silver coins. The exact Atlantic Ocean location of the treasure trove vessel is a mystery. Odyssey said it was located in an area where many colonial-era vessels sank. Doubt surrounded its nationality, size and age. In a nod to the search mission’s secretive nature, the wreck was code-named Black Swan. In 2009, a Florida judge cleared away the fog, announcing that the Black Swan was the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes: a Spanish frigate downed by the British off the coast of Cape St. Mary, Portugal in 1804. Spain successfully claimed the loot.
Nuestra Senora de Atocha
Spanish galleons seem to be particularly packed with riches. Another huge undersea treasure haul came from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha. The floating treasure chest went under in 1622 during a hurricane off the Florida Keys. Treasure-hungry trailblazer Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha in 1985, recovering $400 million in coins and other assets. Evidently, the aptly named Fisher was a diligent man. He spent no less than 16 and a half years scouring the ocean before he came on his quarry. In 1980, Fisher picked up bits of the wrecked cargo of the sister ship Santa Margarita, which must have given him a little encouragement. After he found his true target, as in the case of Black Swan, things got legally sticky. Still, Fisher eventually got all or almost all the booty, but did not get long to appreciate it, dying in 1998.
Cover Photo Credit: 416style / Flickr.com