Browsing the boundless archives of the internet and searching for content about the sea both worth knowing and sharing we have on various occasions stumbled upon the wondrous remark how surprising it is that we have explored so much of the moon’s surface and yet so little of the ocean’s depths. Everybody knows that Mount Everest, with an impressive height of 8,848 meters, is considered to be the ‘roof of the world’. But how many of you know where the deepest water of the world is? Or perhaps more importantly, how deep the deepest water in the world is? Numerous expeditions have had thousands of mountaineers reaching the peak of the Himalayas but how many people have actually explored the deepest trenches of the world and seen them up close? Various oceanographers have suggested that we have but explored 5% of the world’s oceans. Shocking isn’t it?
Scuba divers like to boast that 71% of the planet is ‘ours’ and that the remaining 29% is for everybody else. The oceans and seas account for 71% of the earth’s surface. It makes you wonder why we called our planet ‘Earth’ in the first place. In any case it is a ‘whole lot’ of water to explore … especially if you consider the incredible depths that the oceans can reach and the volume of water that contained within these depths. In total this volume amounts to about 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water with an average depth of 3,682 meters. But the deepest point on the planet extends another few kilometers deeper past that average. With a mind-boggling depth of 10,920 meters (below sea level) the Challenger Deep in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean is the deepest known point on the planet. Just imagine … that is over two kilometers deeper than the elevation of Mount Everest! The depth range of naval submarines is approximately three kilometers. The Titanic lies at a depth of 3,780 meters.
The Challenger Deep is located at the southwestern end of the Mariana Trench near the Mariana Islands group and about 300 kilometers from the island Guam. Only twice has ‘man’ been bold enough to explore these depths. The first time was in 1960 with the Swiss designed submarine Trieste carrying on board Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh of the United States navy. The descent took almost five hours whilst the time at the bottom lasted only 20 minutes. It wasn’t until 52 years later that a second attempt was made. In March 2012 Canadian born film maker James Cameron (known for movies such as Avatar, Terminator and Titanic) successfully descended to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the DSV Deepsea Challenger. Cameron needed two hours and 36 minutes for his descend and then spent two hours and 34 minutes exploring the ‘absolute’ bottom of the seabed.
The immense mass of water above this deepest point translates to an incredible water pressure of 1,086 bar, more than 1,000 times the standard atmospheric pressure that we experience at sea level. Putting this into perspective … that is the equivalent of the weight of 50 jumbo jet airliners stacked on top of a human body. Surprisingly we can still find life at great depth. During numerous unmanned expeditions (using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)) creatures such as sea cucumbers, sea anemones, jellyfish and crayfish were encountered. Recently also a new species of snail-fish has been discovered. Creatures spotted at this depth have over the course of many centuries adapted to the extreme conditions of their environment. Often that translates to curious shapes and habits of these creatures. One of the more lovable deep sea creatures is the Jumbo octopus.
There is yet so much to discover, both environmentally and historically on the bottom of our oceans and seas.
A curious side note to this blog is the discovery of the local ‘true name’ of Mount Everest, Chomolungma. In the years of the first ‘Western’ attempts to climb this mountain both Nepal and Tibet were closed off for foreigners. Consequently surveyors in 1865 named the mountain after the British surveyor and geographer George Everest, the former chairman of the institute that conducted the survey. Admirably George Everest preferred the use of local names.