THE BORDERS OF the United States extend 200 nautical miles from the coast, account- ing for more than 3 million square nautical miles of water and the land underneath it. Most coastal nations have Exclusive Economic Zones, which give them special rights to
resources like oil and fisheries, but most of the area off the U.S. coast remains unexplored territory. That started to change last summer, as NOAA and independent explorer Robert Ballard
began a long-term project to survey the areas.
Ballard, best known for rediscovering the Titanic, compared the project to the epic journey
of Lewis and Clark, who set out to survey the territory gained in the Louisiana Purchase. In
a National Geographic article, he wrote that, “to this day, we have far better maps of Venus,
Mars, and the far side of the moon than we do of underwater America.” His ship, the Nautilus,
mapped parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, while NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer looked at
a chain of underwater mountains near Rhode Island. — C.L.
The NOAA research vessel