updated 9/16/2004 6:28:41 PM ET 2004-09-16T22:28:41

A new ocean science program dedicated to studying and explaining the world’s oceans is the latest offering from 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 Thursday in a statement announcing the program.

The $60 million effort will include a new Ocean Hall at the museum — to open in 2008 — as well as a new chair for ocean science research and an Internet portal to provide educational materials.

Initial funding for the project includes $18.2 million from Smithsonian funds 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 will demonstrate how the ocean is intrinsically connected to other global ecosystems and to our daily lives.”

NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher 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 already a center for marine biological and paleobiological research, with more than 50 members of the Museum’s scientific staff studying 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 currently houses NOAA’s National Systematics Laboratory research scientists, who help integrate into Museum collections the specimens collected by National Marine Fisheries Service vessels.

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