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Fifty scientists and a crew of 18 have embarked on a 64,000 km odyssey to explore the Pacific from pole to pole—the most ambitious program in the history of the marine geology branch of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Called Operation Deep Sweep, the 1-year cruise will search areas above the Arctic Circle, off of Alaska, to McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. The 63-m, 1,300-tonne research vessel Samuel P. Lee sailed from its home port of Redwood City, Calif., to San Francisco to begin the first leg of the lengthy journey.

According to USGS officials and the cosponsoring Circum-Pacific Council for Energy and Mineral Resources of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the cruise will ultimately involve 150 scientists, some of them representing Germany, France, Australia, and New Zealand. David Howell, branch chief of Pacific Marine Geology for the USGS, said the voyage of the Lee was “the most far reaching and of the longest duration” ever attempted by his unit. He said the cruise would string together a large number of scientific experiments spanning the Pacific. Howell likened the voyage to the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803–1806 (which explored Louisiana and the western United States) because “we're going into unknown territory and into regions not studied except in the most cursory manner.”