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Perseverance pays off for noted deep-sea researcher

by Motonobu Endo

Kyodo

Geologist and paleontologist Hiroshi Kitazato, a key scientist behind the recent discovery of a tantalizing clue to what could be the lost continent of Atlantis, had to navigate through three years’ worth or red tape before he got his chance.

Kitazato, 64, travels the world seeking to secure permission from governments to explore their territorial waters — and the deep-sea dive off Brazil was his first he could take himself in five years.

“My instinct hasn’t dulled,” he said. “Our discovery has helped bring Japanese technology into the spotlight.”

A member of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Kitazato leads the exploration team that operates the Shinkai 6500 manned submersible, which has made more than 1,300 dives without an accident since entering service in 1991.

Adverse weather delayed Kitazato’s team, but on the effort’s final day in late April he “got lucky,” discovering a mass of granite at a depth of 910 meters. It measured about 10 meters high and wide.

Since Granite normally forms on dry land, the discovery suggests that a continent once existed in the area, sparking speculation of the legendary Atlantis mentioned by Plato.

“We were very excited when we found it because we had been skeptical (about the existence of a continent there),” Kitazato said.

The research was conducted jointly with the Brazilian government, and Kitazato’s team was restricted to making three of the seven dives.

Kitazato first wanted to become a researcher at the age of 6 when he saw a rock brought back from an expedition to Antarctica.

He earned a Ph.D. in geology and paleontology at Tohoku University and taught at Shizuoka University before joining the agency in 2002.

In the team’s previous dive, the researchers explored the Arabian Sea off India, the first research there since at least 1947.