His depth on arrival: 35,756 feet (10,898 meters)—a figure unattainable anywhere else in the ocean.
Reaching bottom after a 2-hour-and-36-minute descent, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker typed out welcome words for the cheering support crew waiting at the surface: “All systems OK.”
Folded into a sub cockpit as cramped as any Apollo capsule, the National Geographic explorer and frilmmaker is now investigating a seascape more alien to humans than the moon. Cameron is only the third person to reach this Pacific Ocean valley southwest of Guam (map)—and the only one to do so solo.
Hovering in what he’s called a vertical torpedo, Cameron is likely collecting data, specimens, and imagery unthinkable in 1960, when the only other explorers to reach Challenger Deep returned after seeing little more than the silt stirred up by their bathyscaphe.
After as long as six hours in the trench, Cameron—best known for creating fictional worlds on film (Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss)—is to jettison steel weights attached to the sub and shoot back to the surface. (See pictures of Cameron’s sub.)
Meanwhile, the expedition’s scientific support team awaits his return aboard the research ships Mermaid Sapphire and Barakuda, 7 miles (11 kilometers) up. (Video: how sound revealed that Challenger Deep is the deepest spot in the ocean.)
“We’re now a band of brothers and sisters that have been through this for a while,” marine biologist Doug Bartlett told National Geographic News from the ship before the dive.
“People have worked for months or years in a very intensive way to get to this point,” said Bartlett, chief scientist for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE program, a partnership with the National Geographic Society and Rolex. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
“I think people are ready,” added Bartlett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. “They want to get there, and they want to see this happen.”
Rendezvous at Challenger Deep
Upon touchdown at Challenger Deep, Cameron’s first target is a phone booth-like unmanned “lander” dropped into the trench hours before his dive.
Using sonar, “I’m going to attempt to rendezvous with that vehicle so I can observe animals that are attracted to the chemical signature of its bait,” Cameron told National Geographic News before the dive.
He’ll later follow a route designed to take him through as many environments as possible, surveying not only the sediment-covered seafloor but also cliffs of interest to expedition geologists.
“I’ll be doing a bit of a longitudinal transect along the trench axis for a while, and then I’ll turn 90 degrees and I’ll go north and work myself up the wall,” said Cameron, also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. (Listen: James Cameron on becoming a National Geographic explorer.)
Though battery power and vast distances limit his contact with his science team to text messaging and sporadic voice communication, Cameron seemed confident in his mission Friday. “I’m pretty well briefed on what I’ll see,” he said.
Bullet to the Deep
To get to this point, Cameron and his crew have spent seven years reimagining what a submersible can be. The result is the 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) DEEPSEA CHALLENGER.
Engineered to sink upright and spinning, like a bullet fired straight into the Mariana Trench, the sub can descend about 500 feet (150 meters) a minute—”amazingly fast,” in the words of Robert Stern, a marine geologist at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Pre-expedition estimates put the Challenger Deep descent at about 90 minutes. (Animation: Cameron’s Mariana Trench dive compressed into one minute.)
By contrast, some current remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, descend at about 40 meters (130 feet) a minute, added Stern, who isn’t part of the expedition.
Andy Bowen, project manager and principal developer of the Nereus, an ROV that explored Challenger Deep in 2009, called the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER “an extremely elegant solution to the challenge of diving a human-occupied submersible to such extreme depths.”
“It’s been engineered to be very effective at getting from the surface to the seafloor in as quick a time as possible,” said Bowen, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who also isn’t part of the current expedition.
And that’s just the idea, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team says: The faster Cameron gets there, the more time for science. (Read more about DEEPSEA CHALLENGE science.)
Pursuing speed and science in tandem makes the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER test dives—and even the Mariana Trench mission—perhaps as unorthodox as the sub itself.
Typically “you conduct a sea trial for a vehicle, you pronounce it fit for service, and then you develop a science program around it,” Cameron said before heading to the trench. “We collapsed that together into one expedition, because [we were] fairly confident the vehicle would work—and it is.”
Now, at the bottom of the trench, the sub’s custom-designed foam filling and the pressure-resistant shape of the “pilot sphere”—are helping protect Cameron from the equivalent of 8 tons pressing down on every square inch (1,125 kilograms per square centimeter). (Video: how sub sphere protects Cameron.)
Among the sub’s tools are a sediment sampler, a mechanical claw, a “slurp gun” for sucking up small sea creatures for study at the surface, and temperature, salinity, and pressure gauges.
While that might sound like a gearhead’s paradise, Cameron knows he’ll “have to be able to prioritize.”
“Is my manipulator working properly? Do I still have room in my sample drawer? And do I still have the ability to take a [sediment] core sample? … I only have [tools for] three sediment cores available on the vehicle, so I have to choose wisely when to use them.”
By contrast, the sub’s multiple 3-D cameras will be whirring almost continually, and not just for the benefit of future audiences of planned documentaries.
“There is scientific value in getting stereo images,” Cameron said, “because … you can determine the scale and distance of objects from stereo pairs that you can’t from 2-D images.”
But, Scripps’s Bartlett said, “it’s not just the video.” The sub’s lighting of deepwater scenes—mainly by an 8-foot (2.5-meter) tower of LEDs—is “so, so beautiful. It’s unlike anything that you’ll have seen from other subs or other remotely operated vehicles.”
The Search for Life
Right now it’s a mystery what Cameron is seeing, sampling, and filming at depth, in part because so little is known about the Challenger Deep environment.
The only glimpses scientists have had of the region, via two ROV missions, showed a seafloor covered in light gray, silky mud.
Cameron may be detecting subtle signs of life—burrows or tracks or fecal piles—said DEEPSEA CHALLENGE biological oceanographer Lisa Levin, also of Scripps, who’s monitoring the expedition from afar.
If the water’s clear, she added, Cameron may be seeing jellyfish or xenophyophores—giant, single-celled, honeycomb-shaped creatures already filmed in other areas of the Mariana Trench. (See “Giant ‘Amoebas’ Found in Deepest Place on Earth.”)
“If we get lucky,” Cameron said before the dive, “we should find something like a cold seep, where we might find tube worms.” Cold seeps are regions of the ocean floor somewhat like hydrothermal vents (video) that ooze fluid chemicals at the same temperature as the surrounding water.
Earlier this month, during a test dive near Papua New Guinea, Cameron brought back enormous shrimplike creatures from five miles (eight kilometers) down. At 7 inches (17 centimeters) long, the animals are “the largest amphipods ever seen at that kind of depth,” chief scientist Bartlett said. “And we saw one on camera that was perhaps twice that size.”
At Challenger Deep depths, though, the calcium animals need to form shells dissolves quickly. It’s unlikely—though not impossible—that Cameron is finding shelled creatures, but if he does, the discovery would be a scientific jaw-dropper.
Even if he uncovers “a rock with a shell limpet or some kind of bivalve in the mud”—such as a clam, perhaps—”that would be exciting,” Scripps’s Levin said.
Aliens of the Abyss
For instance, scientists think Jupiter’s moon Europa could harbor a global ocean beneath its thick shell of ice—an ocean that, like Challenger Deep, would be lightless, near freezing, and home to areas of intense pressure. (See “Could Jupiter Moon Harbor Fish-Size Life?”)
I like the idea of this being a precursor journey for a trip to explore Europa, but I don’t foresee that mission happening in the near future due to NASA’s continuing financial woes.
Because of Cameron’s deep-dive journey however, exploration of the deep ocean might become cost-effective and common-place as the search for more natural resources becomes necessary as we humans continue to form a Kardashev Class 1 Civilization.
A “grid of streets” on the seabed at one of the proposed locations of the lost city of Atlantis has been spotted on Google Ocean.
The network of criss-cross lines is 620 miles off the coast of north west Africa near the Canary Islands on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.
The perfect rectangle – which is around the size of Wales – was noticed on the search giant’s underwater exploration tool by an aeronautical engineer who claims it looks like an “aerial map” of a city.
The underwater image can be found at the co-ordinates 31 15’15.53N 24 15’30.53W.
Last night Atlantis experts said that the unexplained grid is located at one of the possible sites of the legendary island, which was described by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato.
According to his account, the city sank beneath the ocean after its residents made a failed effort to conquer Athens around 9000 BC.
This would be one of the most important archeological finds in 100 years if this proves to be true. Mainstream archeologists would be forced to rewrite history; from the Sumerians and Egyptians to the present.
Of course there will be those who poo-poo this as natural or fake.
Grants and tenures will be on the line here.
THS, when mentioning different entity types, wasn’t referring about the internet speculation (with some added fantasy perhaps) that multiple alien races are here, permenantly, in Earth’s biosphere and are probably interacting with humans (some say dozens of races). No, what THS was and is referring to is `spaces’* (entities) which do not have an equal `basis’ of `common reality’ grounding – compared to a human. (Wordy, THS knows, but we will get much more specific in a bit.) Let THS attempt to explain:
[* Remember, much of the Phillips Phenomenology (PP) positions `space’ as a characteristic which must be actualized for an event to occur. The PP describes `different types of spaces’ – and where they occur.]
Type One – Aliens/Entities
(Real & Travel In Craft)
Type One Properties —> Real `physical’ alien – in the same manner that a human is `physical’ . A being with a birth, and, on-going, contiguous, `space-time’ reality – rooted in our same human perceived outer reality that we as humans consider a `common consensus’ – considered by all to be called our `real’** ontology. Type One Aliens are beings that do NOT exceed the speed of light for travel and are beings that travel by craft. They are beings that do not need to `become objective’ to reveal `their reality of space’. They would be beings as trapped in our common reality as we humans are.
**[In other words, if a class of 100 college biology students were asked in an auditorium classroom if any of them thought the lecture was a `being dreamed’ as opposed to being experienced while awake – all would KNOW it wasn’t a dreamstate. (Then again with college students who knows, right?)]
Comment – To humans at our 2009 level of consciousness, these Type One Aliens are the most real and `humanlike’ of all alien types. `They’ will probably have arms, legs, a head, be able to communicate with each other – etc – humanlike characteristics of which humans can identify. Nevertheless, `aliens’ of any sort are inherently scary to most humans, of course.
However, type one beings that travel `anywhere’ in the universe ONLY below the speed of light – can be assumed to be rare; very rare – in ANY one particular location, including Earth. That said, being very rare – in a near infinite universe – does not mean non-existent or impossible. Indeed, while of low probability to be at any one location in the universe – this would be the alien/entity type MOST likely to have an interest in living planets like Earth.
But, would such beings, Type One beings, be so focused as `being here’ only in the last 60 years? (Or would it be another type of the four entity/alien choices THS will review?) Wouldn’t such type one beings be just as likely to have been here, around Earth, for at least the last few hundred million years? You know, coming and going at will over the millenia – perhaps staying on occasion for eons.
Could we really expect that more than a handful would be `around’ in any given era like ours? (If they did `stick around’ how many `aliens’ would they need to have a sustainable population?) Could we really expect a huge increase within a short period of 60 years, that we seem to have experienced, from beings that use `moving craft’ in a `galaxy’ context? (If there has been such an increase in the last 60 years.)
Indeed, the idea of a sudden increase in `this type’ of alien – a type one alien/entity – just seems unlikely, logically. Why? Well, first, T1 beings living below the `light threshold’ would not even have knowledge of mans recent advancements – outside of a 60 year light cone. Could there really be a significant number of civilizations within 60 years that have humanlike entities that have crafts that go a significant % of the speed of light? And who would want to come HERE if they did have such `slow’ `interstellar’ craft? It simply seems unlikely.
This is the most intelligent breakdown of the “types” of “aliens” that permeate our cultures and world consciousness.
Some, like the author mentions, do have some science behind them, like the ‘solid’ creatures who appear and disappear at will. This can be explained by advanced nanotech, or beamed telepresence via quantum entanglement.
Either method requires knowledge of quantum physics well beyond our own, akin to ‘magic’ or ‘supernatural powers.’