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D.C. museum program to study oceans

WASHINGTON -- A new program dedicated to studying and explaining the world's oceans is the latest effort by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

"This is a remarkable time for ocean exploration. New technology enables scientists to go to depths of the ocean that were previously inaccessible and to discover organisms and ecosystems that have never been seen," museum director Christian Samper said yesterday in announcing the program.

The $60 million effort is to include a new Ocean Hall at the museum, to open in 2008, as well as a new head of ocean research and a website to provide educational materials.

Initial financing for the project includes $18.2 million from the Smithsonian and $18 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Additional support will be sought from corporations, foundations, and individuals, the museum said.

Samper said that, working with NOAA, the museum will establish the Ocean Science Initiative, a national outreach program that aims to demonstrate how the ocean is connected to other global ecosystems and to daily life.

NOAA administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. added that "because the oceans ultimately support all living creatures, it is vitally important that we learn more about our oceans and share that knowledge widely."

The Natural History Museum is a center for marine biological and paleobiological research, as more than 50 members of the museum's scientific staff study marine animals and plants.

The museum maintains reference collections of marine organisms, including the world's largest collection of marine animals and plants and an extensive collection of marine fossils.

It also houses the research scientists of the NOAA National Systematics Lab. They help organize into the museum specimens collected by vessels of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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