SAN FRANCISCO -- A $60 million research ship funded by a Google executive was scheduled to set sail from San Francisco on Thursday, on its way to study a "dead zone" in the Pacific Ocean and other mysteries of the sea.
The 272-foot vessel, Falkor, carries an unmanned submarine that will travel deep into the ocean off Vancouver Island to study an area where sea life dies each year from a periodic lack of oxygen, called hypoxia.
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Researchers speculate that the cause may be a changing climate or caustic runoff like sewage from land.
And scientists working aboard the Falkor are treated to amenities not found on the usual research ship: a sauna and down-filled bunks among them, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"It may not be needed up here," Victor Zykov, the institute's director of research, told the newspaper about the sauna. "But when we're up in cold Canadian waters, the scientists and crew will surely appreciate it after a long day on deck."
The Falkor is funded by the Schmidt Ocean Science Institute, which was co-founded by Google executive Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy.
After stopping to study the dead zone, the ship named for a flying creature in the movie "The NeverEnding Story" will move on to study a submarine volcano, the Axial Seamount, about 300 miles west of Oregon.
A microbiologist will study the tiny organisms living for millions of years inside fissures in the volcanic rock, and another scientist will study viruses that have adapted to the unique habitat.