In March 2012, filmmaker James Cameron led the Deepsea Challenge Expedition to the Challenger Deep, a point in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean that is 10,898 meters (35,756 feet) deep. The historic dive involved a team of people with backgrounds in various areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The dive benefited us in a number of ways. For instance, the engineering that went into the submersible that Cameron piloted will surely find its way into other deep-sea applications. The material providing flotation to the submersible (so it could rise to the surface after diving down to the seafloor) has been patented and is available for purchase. The high pressure-resistant battery packs, the increased descent/ascent speeds made possible by the vertical configuration of the submersible, and the extensive use of three-dimensional filming might also find broader applications in marine technology.
The science derived from the mission is still ongoing and so it is too early to know its full significance.
New species of crustaceans were recovered, some quite gigantic, and new information has been provided on the biodiversity of life in remote trenches. These are great places to go if you like amphipods, foraminifera, and sea cucumbers. One scientist discovered a small molecule present in amphipods from the Challenger Deep that is now being studied to treat Alzheimer’s disease in people. How cool is that?!
Microbes that grow under physical conditions more similar to those found on a moon of Jupiter than the surface of Earth were isolated. Some people even hypothesize that understanding some of the ways microbes grow in these super-deep places could tell us about the origin of life itself. There is a lot more exploration to be done in the world's trenches.
There was another important benefit of the dive as well. It engaged people like you to follow the adventure and by doing so to perhaps start thinking about what kinds of training goes into a voyage to the deepest place on Earth. Information on the expedition received 2.8 billion separate connections to the Internet. Yowser, that’s a lot of pairs of eyeballs looking at science in action!
Perhaps someday there will be a deep-sea dive in your future.
– Doug Bartlett, marine microbiologist (and Deepsea Challenge chief scientist), Marine Biology Research Division