The ocean is one of the remaining parts of planet Earth that we have yet to fully explore. Beneath its briny depths hide countless mysteries just waiting to be uncovered.
Swedish treasure hunters didn’t know what to expect when they embarked on a journey to scour the Baltic Sea in 2011. What they found using sonar technology, however, changed the way people would see the underwater world forever…To this day, the ocean remains the least-explored environment on our planet. That was exactly why it was so alluring to two Swedish scientists and treasure hunters named Peter Lindberg and Dennis Asberg.
In 2011, the scientists acted on their passion when they journeyed to the bottom of the Baltic Sea as part of Ocean X Team. This diving organization had a singular mission: to conduct an exhaustive search for undiscovered species or objects and learn as much as possible from whatever they’d find.
Their mission was off to a slow start, but that was just par for the course; oceanic exploration requires patience, after all. As they’d soon find out, however, it wouldn’t last: one second they were fighting boredom, and the next, they were blown away…
During their mission, the scientists employed sonar technology to scan the floor of the ocean for potentially interesting finds. Using a thorough technique called side-scan sonar, it was only a matter of time before something strange caught their attention.
Roughly 300 feet below the surface of the Baltic Sea, the high-tech sonar technology picked up on a massive foreign object. Even while monitoring it on their computer screens, they weren’t able to properly identify what it was…
Peter and Dennis were obviously perplexed by the mysterious object—which, admittedly, seemed to resemble the Millennium Falcon, the spaceship piloted by protagonist Han Solo in Star Wars.
Millennium Falcon or not, one thing was certain: this object was so large and heavy that they wouldn’t just be able to retrieve it and bring it back to land. If they wanted to learn more about it, they would have to return with a diving team.
When they deployed more divers to explore the object, things only got more mysterious. Randomly, a bunch of the group’s electronic devices completely stopped working. And there was no scientific explanation for it, either.
“Anything electric out there, and the satellite phone as well, stopped working when we were above the object,” said diver Stefan Hogerborn, who was a part of the Ocean X Team helping to further study the anomaly.
Despite their electronic difficulties, the divers were still able to retrieve a sample of the object from their explorations. They were eager to bring it back to a laboratory so they could give it the proper analysis it required.
Once they returned to Sweden, they brought in the sample for analysis. Geologist Steve Weiner firmly established that whatever this object was, it was not something that occurred naturally. But what could it be?
The scientists were unable to find any evidence that would shed light on their strange find. Some speculated that it was the ancient remains of a battleship gun turret or that it could’ve even been a World War II anti-submarine device.
When word broke of their discovery, it was only a matter of time before it captured the interest of everyday people, who in turn, theorized its origins. The object was quickly nicknamed the “Baltic Sea anomaly.”
Soon, the conspiracy theory message boards swirled with interest. Some of the more outlandish theories claimed that a UFO had crashed in the water sometime during the Ice Age, landing at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
For as popular as the theories were among excited theorists, they never really held much weight. In fact, there was no evidence to actually back any of their claims—though that didn’t stop rumors from continuing to spread.
With all the people who think the object could have extraterrestrial ties, it was only a matter of time before it was given another moniker. Eventually, it came to be known as “The Roswell of the Sea.”
In the meantime, Volker Bruchert, a professor who taught geology at Stockholm University, was asked to examine the sample. “My hypothesis is that this object, this structure, was formed during the Ice Age many thousands of years ago,” he speculated.
“Because the whole northern Baltic region is so heavily influenced by glacial thawing processes, both the feature and the rock samples are likely to have formed in connection with glacial and postglacial processes,” he continued.
Unfortunately, it looked like the true identity of this object would continue to be the source of speculation. While there was plenty of interest, Peter and Dennis hadn’t been able to drum up enough funding to help them conduct more research.
It’s strange to think that a lack of funds could potentially be holding humankind back from discovering the existence of extraterrestrial life on Earth. However, another underwater phenomenon that is being funded has been causing quite a stir…
Located some 40 miles off the coast of Belize City, the Great Blue Hole has marveled those who’ve skirted its crystal-blue waters for over the last half-century. At over 1,000 feet across, this massive cavern was long considered the biggest of its kind.
PinterestThe hole is at the center of the Lighthouse Reef, one of the many small atolls that make up the world’s second-largest coral reef system, the Belize Barrier Reef.
As such, the Great Blue Hole is protected as a World Heritage Site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Chabil Mar VillasBut although the hole itself has been known to researchers since the mid 20th century, it wasn’t until a famed marine explorer finally visited the site that anyone fully appreciated it.
When Jacques Cousteau visited the site in 1971, the world finally began to take notice of its magnificence. Using the mobile lab aboard his ship Calypso, Cousteau was the first to measure the depth of the hole — a remarkable 407 feet.
National Geographic SocietyA 1991 expedition led by the Cambrian Foundation sought to confirm Cousteau’s original measurement, and to their surprise, they found that the French adventurer was nearly spot on.
Though the title of the world’s largest marine sinkhole now belongs to China’s Dragon Hole, the Great Blue Hole is still big enough to fit two Boeing 724 airplanes with room to spare.
Michael Wass / FlickrFollowing Cousteau’s exploration, the site has since become a popular scuba spot among professional divers, with some citing it as one of the best in the world.
Palau Dive AdventuresBut despite all the attention that the Great Blue Hole has gained over the years, little was truly known about the massive cavern and what it contained… until now.
Fueled by his adventurous spirit and fervent support for marine conservation, English entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson sought to unveil the mysteries of the Great Blue Hole once and for all.
WildAidYet even with years of adventures and discoveries to his credit, Branson needed the help of one important individual to truly make the expedition worthwhile.
That’s right: he enlisted the help of Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of the very same man that had put the Great Blue Hole on the map almost 50 years earlier. Together, the two explorers hoped to pick up right where Jacques had left off.
Deeper BlueMore specifically, the men wanted to use state-of-the-art 3D imaging technology to create a comprehensive map of the interior of the sinkhole. This would provide never-before-seen insight.
They were also looking to test the water quality and oxygen levels within the Great Blue Hole to get a sense of what kind of aquatic life could survive there.
Additionally, Branson and Cousteau were adamant about exploring what they believed to be an oxygen-depleted area at the base of the hole. Why the interest in this so-called dead zone?
Well, if their hunch was correct, this discovery could hold clues to the fall of the Mayan civilization between 800 and 1,000 AD! Yeah, who saw that one coming?
Interesting Engineering“We’ve heard that in the Blue Hole there is an anoxic area [or dead zone] near the bottom,” said one of the expedition’s crew members. “This is really interesting because things don’t degrade in anoxic areas so we could find preserved life.”
But even as visions of this vast undersea adventure danced in their heads, the men still had one glaring issue to overcome before they could even think about venturing below the surface: how would they do it?
Being that most humans can’t dive more than 130 feet without being crushed by water pressure, scuba diving was completely out of the question. They needed to think outside the box.
Dive Training MagazineLuckily, they found captain Erika Bergman. Aboard her high-tech STINGRAY 500, the team would be able to dive at depths of up to 500 feet while simultaneously capturing HD recordings of the entire adventure.
Cause of a KindAnd so, on December 2nd, Branson, Cousteau, and Bergman – along with a team of cinematographers from the Discovery Channel – made the journey to Lighthouse Reef to begin their exploration.
With their live stream being broadcast to viewers all over the world, the three adventurers submerged in the waters of the Great Blue Hole.
VirginThough the surface of the massive cavern looked almost clear blue from above, the depths below were anything but. Darkness met the team head on as they dove deeper and deeper into the hole, unaware of what treasures – or horrors – awaited them at its bottom.
VirginAlong the way, a variety of fish kept pace alongside the team, ranging from common ocean dwellers to the likes of the exotic Midnight Parrotfish.
But for every unassuming fin or tail that flitted by, they couldn’t help but keep their eyes peeled for the hammerhead and aggressive bull sharks that were known to prowl the area.
Earth TouchWhen the vessel arrived at the floor of the cavern the team immediately went to work mapping the dimensions of the hole. After only a few minutes of scanning, however, Branson and the others noticed a strange opening…
VirginCurious, the team approached the opening, and inside they found the real treasure of the exploration: stalactites! This discovery would’ve meant little if stumbled upon in a typical cave system, but the fact that the find was made at such a depth underwater was unprecedented.
Discovery / TwitterAccording to tests run on the rock formations, these stalactites were an astonishing 150,000 years old. Usually, stalactites only form in dry caves!
That means that the Great Blue Hole was once part of a larger cave system that formed on dry land. As remarkable as this was, though, this discovery actually points to a much larger issue.
With the Great Blue Hole now completely submerged under hundreds of feet of water, it’s a clear indication that the gradual warming of the earth is directly responsible for rising sea levels. As global warming continues to affect our planet, could this be a sign of things to come?
Richard Branson and his team seem to think so, and he’s pledged to aid in the effort to protect at least 30% of world oceans by the year 2030. With sea life covering over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, now seems as good a time as ever to make sure that it stays that way.