Presentation to SIPES - Houston Nov 9, 2012 by Dr. Christina Massell Symons
On March 26th National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Filmmaker James Cameron successfully dove to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, which at nearly 11km marks the deepest solo dive in history to the deepest place on earth. Of notable accomplishment was the sub’s ability to remain at the bottom, explore, sample and film for nearly 2 hours. That dive was the culmination of seven years of aspiration and careful planning, design and manufacture of the submersible, as well as technological innovation associated with the development of full-ocean-depth 3D camera housings, lights, sampling tools and a now-patented syntactic foam. Two dives in the New Britain Trench (4km and 8km) in the Solomon Sea, and the dive to the Challenger Deep, ~300km southwest of Guam, were accompanied by multiple, untethered lander deployments. The combination of the two scientific platforms captured stunning video footage, collected sediment, oceanographic data, water samples and biological samples.
The Expedition’s team of scientists is producing exciting preliminary results. The adaptation of trench life to the cold, high-pressure, no light conditions of the Mariana Trench serves as an analog to extreme conditions thought to exist on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, and to the possibility of life on Mars. One camera captured images of serpentinized peridotite blanketed by a microbial mat. The energy produced by serpentinization, a low temperature metamorphic process, has been linked to the origin of life on Earth. Preliminary biological analyses of amphipods have identified solutes shown to stabilize large biomolecules, such as protein, at high pressure. Solutes such as these may have application in biotechnology and have been shown in clinical trials to restore the misfolded protein related to Alzheimer’s.
The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE Expedition captured a global audience following Mr. Cameron’s successful deep dive. Work done as part of the expedition will impact our understanding of tectonic processes, adaptation of marine organisms to extreme environments and the possibility of discovering life on other worlds. If leveraged effectively, the combination of high quality imagery unlike any so far recorded in trenches, and the allure of new discovery can be a powerful force in engaging a broader audience to investigate deep ocean trenches, Earth’s final frontier.