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James Cameron takes Deepsea Challenger to Capitol Hill; pushes for boost in oceans research

Director James Cameron took on a new role yesterday as an advocate for oceanic research before the Senate of the United States. As funding in all areas of government is being cut, Cameron’s visit to Capitol Hill was an important one for advocates of oceans research.

Oceans research is currently lacking both human and financial resources, which means that fewer existing and emerging scientists and researchers are looking to work in the field.

Cameron’s Hollywood appeal is what drew many spectators to the hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, but he himself is actually an experienced ocean diver and researcher.

Cameron spent seven years developing a vehicle called the Deepsea Challenger, which he recently donated to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the hopes of improving the institution’s deep sea research capabilities.

The submarine was displayed on Capitol Hill as a visual component of his presentation. This is the same submarine that Cameron dove 35,787 feet in, making him one of three men to actually visit the trench below the Pacific Ocean. It was no stunt, however, Cameron is deeply passionate about oceans research.

“This is a critical time in oceanographic research,” Cameron said during the hearings. “The ocean is an energy that drives weather, including the higher precipitation in extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy, the severe droughts and so on associated with climate change. To understand weather and climate, we must understand the oceans.”

The oceans have a dramatic impact on the Earth, influencing much more than simply the oceans themselves. For example, Cameron cited rising food prices due to a lack of ocean precipitation, which decreases crop yields and raises food prices.

To best understand the oceans, research is needed from the front lines, and people are needed to take on and complete that research. American students are much weaker in math and science than other countries’ students, and fewer students who do choose to study math or science are choosing a career path that allows them to study and work with oceans.

Jan Newton, senior principle oceanographer at the University of Washington, explained that there is a perceived lack of jobs studying the oceans, influencing students’ interest in pursuing the discipline.

With more funding dedicated to oceanic research, more activity and research would occur and hopefully attract new talent to the field. Cameron hopes that the Deepsea Challenger will inspire kids to explore the unknown. The curiosity and enthusiasm of the next generation are vital to the future of the oceans, he explained in a statement announcing the Senate events.

The day included a “Meet the Submarine” chat in the early morning followed by an in-depth briefing for Congressional staff. It concluded with a panel on partnerships in oceans research.