After its historic achievement of making the first successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, the joint scientific expedition from James Cameron, National Geographic, and Rolex, shifts from an active expedition at sea to its next phase of scientific analysis, long-term planning, and solicitation of support for science around the expedition as of Friday, April 6, 2012. The prototype submersible DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, which was piloted by Cameron to the deepest point on the planet, will undergo further engineering and diagnostics in advance of future dives. Ongoing examination of the photographic and scientific evidence by scientists and others continues.
Below is a summary of the expedition to date.
• The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible completed a total of 13 test and research dives off the coasts of Australia and Papua New Guinea and at the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench between January 31 and April 3, 2012. On March 8 Cameron set the record for a single-manned dive to 27,119 feet (8,265 meters) in the New Britain Trench off Papua New Guinea. An expedition lander, or unmanned research vehicle, captured images of an enormous amphipod—the deepest instance of gigantism reported to date.
• Cameron successfully completed the dive to the Challenger Deep on March 26, reaching 35,787 feet (10,908 meters) and making history as the first individual to reach full ocean depth in a solo-manned vehicle. Cameron spent about three hours on the bottom documenting what he saw and collecting samples. During the dive to the Challenger Deep, Cameron reported that the manipulator arm on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER malfunctioned when hydraulic fluid leaked but that the prototype submersible was a success. Cameron said later: “The sub worked well as a scientific platform, and we learned a great deal. It’s our hope that others will be encouraged to explore and illuminate this new frontier.”
• Ron Allum, chief engineer of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible and Cameron’s partner in the building of the sub, completed a dive to about 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) on April 1 off the coast of Ulithi, an atoll located in the Federated States of Micronesia. He collected samples and documented life at that depth in rare detail. Among his many contributions to the design of the sub and to the ultimate success of the expedition was the invention of ISOFLOAT™, a syntactic foam that enabled the sub to withstand the tremendous pressure of the deep and to remain buoyant and return to the surface in minimal time.
• Chief expedition scientist Doug Bartlett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, confirms the scope of the scientific material that will be published in peer-reviewed papers in the months and years to come. On test dives as well as the dive to the Mariana Trench, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER collected samples, all of which have been preserved for future study at the on-ship laboratory created by the expedition’s team of seven scientists. “That material and the documentary evidence captured by the sub will keep researchers working in the fields of marine biology, microbiology, astrobiology, marine geology, and geophysics for years to come,” said Bartlett, a microbiologist. “It’s too early in the scientific process to draw conclusions, but we saw many surprises, like the giant amphipod at about 8,000 meters. And this is only the beginning.” Another scientist on board, Patricia Fryer, a marine geologist from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawai’i, stresses the video data provides evidence of exposures of thick lava sequences at the deepest levels of the New Britain Trench and confirmation of access to intricate slump deposit features at the deep inner trench slope in the Challenger Deep. The latter are consistent with morphology of features predicted in recent publications to be related to major tsunamigenic earthquakes in subduction zones.
• The science team’s work continued until April 4 at the Mariana Trench. A DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition lander was deployed within the Sirena Deep in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument to a depth of within 656 feet (200 meters) of the Challenger Deep. Video captured reveals a sloping, rocky terrain with a few amphipods seen swimming around the bait. The team has begun processing samples for microbial cultures, amphipod identification, chemistry and genomics/phylogenetics.
• The specially designed Rolex experimental watch attached to the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER’s manipulator arm during the Challenger Deep dive returned unharmed and keeping perfect time. In 1960 an experimental Rolex Deep Sea Special watch was attached to the hull of the bathyscaphe Trieste and emerged in perfect working order after withstanding the huge pressure exerted at 6.77 miles (10.89 kilometers) below the surface. “The Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch is a tremendous example of engineering know-how and an ideal match for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible,” said Cameron.
The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition will be chronicled for a 3-D feature film for theatrical release. The film will feature the intensive technological and scientific efforts behind this historic dive and will subsequently be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel. The expedition will also be documented in National Geographic magazine.