Transcript for America\'s New Frontier, segment 06 of 11


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April, nineteen eighty-four, San Diego, California. A team of scientists from the Geological Survey and the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences joined on the British research vessel Farnella. Their goal - to map the entire west coast exclusive economic zone off California, Oregon, and Washington in just one hundred days. In a sense, this was a test of both GLORIA and the scientific team. Doubts existed about the need to map the entire E. E. Z., making the results of this survey critical to its continuation elsewhere.

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Those of us from the U. S. G. S. really had no idea of what we were going to see and what we were up against. We had no experience with GLORIA so it was a new venture, and we were all a little bit nervous about the first expedition. And as we went out, as the days went by, the excitement started to grow onboard. All of us began to be aware that we were seeing things that nobody, nobody had ever seen before. There were images of canyons, of submarine channels, of seamounts, of eventually even entire mountain ranges that we could see, many of which had been described or talked about only, only in a surfacial way, and we were privy to the first real look at these things. On a day to day basis, probably the worst part was the slow, agonizing rate at which the data was collected, at least to us. It was somewhat akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but we would have to wait eight hours, twelve hours, twenty-four hours for the next large piece to fit into the mosaic to complete the picture of what we thought would be a meandering channel or a new volcano or something like that.

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Over the course of the one hundred day survey, GLORIA's swath of sound touched most of the ocean floor off the west coast. Daily revelations of previously unknown features opened a new chapter in our understanding of the ocean bottom. Off southern California over one hundred seamounts were discovered in a region that was previously thought to be a monotonous plain of sediment. Some one hundred fifty miles west of San Francisco a previously charted seamount was discovered actually to be a chain of very large, very young volcanoes with distinct summit craters, now named the Taney Seamounts. For the first time the Mendicino Escarpment, a submarine fault zone, could be traced in intricate detail from where it leaves the coast at the northern end of the San Andreas fault.

And one case in particular - really kind of a staggering phenomena - there's a volcano that had built up so large, that was so heavy that it created a depression on the sea floor, and so a channel traveling about a hundred miles from the California coast was trapped in this low spot, and at some time in its past that volcano had a large explosive event, and one side of it blew out so it became a very high, very large box canyon, and so the channel now flows a hundred miles off California, and it's trapped in this very deep and very large box canyon.

Another very interesting thing that we saw in its entirety for the first time was a canyon channel system called Monterey Channel, Monterey Canyon Fan, the whole entire system. We knew from, oh, twenty-five years of working off California that this system existed, but we'd never seen one in its entirety. This is something that starts in Monterey Bay as a deep canyon, works its way about four hundred kilometers, so about over two hundred and fifty miles offshore and has deposited an enormous pile of sediment, something that would be larger than the state of Arizona, an enormous feature offshore, and we were able to see it in its entirety as the canyon evolved from a canyon to a channel, and it meandered its way all the way across the deep ocean, and we found that sediment in Monterey Fan that's four hundred kilometers away from Monterey Bay has sticks and twigs in it that we can date and find that they're only a few thousand years old. We don't understand anything about how that process happens, and yet here it is. We can see it clear as a bell.