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Contracts on the Seabed

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The ocean is, by all accounts, largely unexplored and very poorly understood. The only way to change that, according to the experts devoted to the pursuit of oceanic knowledge, is to “get down there and do it” by exploring, charting and cataloguing the earth’s last frontier. To this end, the United States Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is conducting research on as much of the ocean’s floor as it can—an area about the size of West Virginia each year— as quickly as it is able. West Virginia, though, is small compared with the ocean. Expeditions to explore and map the ocean floor share one feature: the novelty of what scientists are finding. A few examples of these unexpected finds include a “tar lily” found in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2014, creatures that make their home exclusively at the 438°F mouth of hydrothermal vents, the “Pogo squid” that uses a narwhal-like horn to hop along the ocean floor, a forty foot- long bioluminescent pyrosome that looks like a giant aquatic tube, and a wide variety of other previously unseen creatures.

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