The world of marine biologists and enthusiasts is all abuzz this week as James Cameron completed his DEEPSEA CHALLENGE mission to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, nearly 7 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The objective of the mission was to gather information on one of Earth’s least-known areas to help science gain a better understanding of the full range of existing life on this planet. In doing so, he became the world’s first person to make the dive on his own, and the first person to be down to those depths in more than 50 years.
Upon reaching the record-setting depth of 35,756 feet after a two-and-a-half hour descent, Cameron began what he projected would be a six-hour exploratory journey of the sea bed and canyon walls of the Challenger Deep, recording video and collecting samples. An unmanned “lander” was released down to the location hours before the dive, equipped with bait to attract any deep sea animals. The object was for Cameron to find the lander using sonar, and take images and samples of the surrounding area.
Like all new expeditions, however, Cameron met with some kinks. The sonar system of the submersible was not working correctly, making it risky for Cameron to try to locate the lander. He also noticed a hydraulic fluid leak, which resulted in the loss of the robotic arm that would collect samples of animals or rocks. Three hours following touchdown, Cameron decided to call the dive and head for the surface. Just over an hour later, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER surfaced and was being extracted from the Pacific by the crane of a research ship.
While still submerged, Cameron surveyed the area, which he likened to a bleak, moon-like environment. The only marine creatures he saw in his midst were small amphipods, a type of shrimp-like bottom feeder. A small sample of the sediment was collected to help scientists unlock mysteries about what other life might have adapted to the deep sea environment.
Although few samples were collected, the dive is being celebrated as a success, for the implications that it holds for the future. The fact that the important functions of the sub worked — the camera and lights, not to mention the sub itself — means that Cameron and his team have a solid foundation from which to start. It is being seen not as a sole expedition, but the beginning of a program focusing on deep sea exploration in order to further understand our planet.