Scientific expertise from the University of Hull is supporting a 3 weeks-long expedition led by Aquatica Submarines with special guests, ocean advocates Sir Richard Branson and Fabien Cousteau to explore the Belize Great Blue Hole and the surrounding Lighthouse Reef upper slopes. Fabien Cousteau is the grandson of famed French diver-explorer Jacques Cousteau who was the first to dive into the Belize Blue Hole in 1971.
Using state-of-the-art sonar technology and mini-submarines, the expedition team will survey the 124 meter deep flooded sinkhole and capture high-resolution 3D scans of the sinkhole walls to create a virtual image of the UNESCO World Heritage site which lies 40 miles offshore from Belize City.
Professor Dan Parsons and PhD student Joshua Johnson, working in collaboration with colleagues Professor André Droxler, the expedition lead geologist, and Professor Jeff Nittrouer from Rice University in Houston, Texas, are part of a research team which will survey in particular and in unprecedented detail the bathymetry of Lighthouse Reef upper slopes where the most famous ocean sinkhole in the world is located. The upper slope bathymetric surveys will help select optimum location for a series of submersible dives. Coral Reef upper slopes are incredibly valuable scientifically as living archives of sea level fluctuations and climate change since Last Glacial Maximum or 20,000 years ago. Researchers from Hull were invited to collaborate with colleagues at Rice and join the expedition because of the University’s long-standing capability and expertise in high-resolution sonar scanning.
The scientific data that will be collectively gather will shed light on how climate change has impacted the earth over thousands of years. The morphology of the Belize Blue Hole walls and the Lighthouse Reef upper slopes has recorded sea-level position in incredible detail. In addition to stalactites that grew in caves during times of reef exposure, the surveys in the Blue Hole itself and the surrounding upper slopes, are expected to reveal distinct terraces, ridges, notches, which will help constrain how rapidly sea-level and climate have changed during the last glacial cycle or 120,000 years.
Professor Dan Parsons explained “Our long-standing expertise and capability in acoustic sonar technology is allowing us to join this historic expedition, which is a fantastic opportunity for one of our PhD students, Joshua, to take part in this very exciting high-profile international project.”
As part of the expedition, Erika Bergman, Aquatica’s Chief Pilot of the three-person submersible, Sir Richard Branson, and Fabien Cousteau, will broadcast live to millions from the bottom of the Belize Blue Hole, to help raise awareness of ocean conservation and educate on ocean sustainability issues. The live feed on Discovery Channel is scheduled for Sunday, December 2nd from 4-6 pm EST.