VIMS's Patterson chosen to lead Project SeaCAMEL mission

Dr. Mark Patterson of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary, has been chosen as mission leader for a coral-reef research project that will be broadcast live worldwide to thousands of students and ocean enthusiasts from the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, America's "Inner Space Station."Dr. Mark Patterson inside the

Project "SeaCamel" (Classroom Aquarius Marine Education Live) will provide three days of interactive coral-reef experiments (November 12-14, 2007) from Aquarius, which is deployed three-and-a half miles off the coast of Key Largo at a depth of 63-feet and adjacent to deep coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Patterson, a veteran of six previous Aquarius missions, says "I'm excited about directing my team of graduate student 'aquanauts' in underwater classroom experiments to test hypotheses on the cutting edge of marine science and coral reef ecology." Project SeaCAMEL will also employ the Fetch 1 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, a sophisticated robotic mobile sensor designed by Patterson.

Project SeaCAMEL is funded by the Living Oceans Foundation, the brainchild of His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Sultan of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The project takes its name from the desert camel's similarity to the Aquarius habitat, as both possess internal life-support systems.

In addition, says Living Oceans Executive Director Captain Philip G. Renaud, USN (ret), "As a long distance traveler connecting East and West, the camel represents our Foundation's guiding principle of international scientific cooperation and Science Without Borders.

The graduate student aquanauts will be selected from Patterson's course on Ocean Observing Systems: Technology and Applications, one of only a handful of such courses currently being offered in the U.S.

"This will be the fist time that Aquarius has been used to teach a graduate level course," says Patterson. "It will give the students a unique opportunity to see how this offshore lab works, and at the same time to collect data with an AUV that they are piloting nearby."

Adds Renaud, "Project SeaCAMEL is designed to inspire young marine scientists by providing them an unparalleled opportunity for actual and virtual participation in coral reef science classes conducted underwater. We are able to accomplish this feat by integrating the latest innovations in audio, video, and Internet technologies."

An underwater video crew from project partner Media Arts, Inc. will document the action in the ocean, while project partner Immersion Presents will link the SeaCAMEL mission via satellite and the Internet, and will produce a multimedia science education and outreach program.

Aquarius, owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and managed by the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, is the only operational underwater habitat of its kind in the world. The Aquarius laboratory, about the size of a large Recreational Vehicle (RV), provides all necessary life support in a saturation habitat, which allows divers to breathe air at the same high pressure as the water outside and to greatly extend dive time up to a maximum of eight hours per day.

The Living Oceans Foundation

Saudi Arabian Prince Khaled bin Sultan founded the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation as a 501(c)(3) American Public Benefit, Private Operating Foundation in 2000 to promote ocean conservation through research and education, and its unique program of Science Without Borders.

"As I began to travel the seas and dive beneath them, my interest matured into a deep love for our oceans, the life they sustain, and an abiding passion to preserve and protect the fragile balance of the seas for future generations," Prince Khaled said. "Project SeaCAMEL is one step towards realizing my dream."