The world can feel like a small, crowded place, but actually two-thirds of the planet remains relatively unexplored. Over 1,500 people have climbed Mount Everest, but only THREE have gone to the deepest part of the ocean.
Up until recently, we haven't had the technology to fully study and explore the oceans, but the race is on. Why is this so urgent? Over 70% of the oxygen we breathe comes from marine life such as plankton. Due to increased CO2 (carbon dioxide), pollution and other manmade changes to the environment, plankton may end up on our endangered species list one day.
To protect plankton, marine life and the oceans overall, we first need to understand what is normal, how things are changing, how fast and why. We know that the oceans dissolve much of the excess CO2 that humans create. But this makes oceans more acidic, damaging and killing coral and plankton, and adversely affecting much other marine life.
The biggest challenge in deep-sea exploration has always been the increased pressure the deeper one goes. Most divers comfortably go no further than 130 feet before succumbing to the eventually fatal pressure. The deepest part of the ocean, an area called Challenger Deep near Guam, is about 36,200 feet deep.
The first submarine was built in 1620 by Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel. It traveled along the banks of the Thames River in London, diving to a depth of 15 feet. In 2012, filmmaker James Cameron descended to a depth of 35,787 feet in the DSV Deepsea Challenger, a deep-diving submersible. He was only able to stay at the bottom for about an hour before having to resurface.
The only other two people to dive deeper were Jaques Piccard and Don Walsh in the Swiss & Italian Bathyscaphe Trieste. They reached 35,797 feet in the Challenger Deep section of the Mariana Trench in 1960.
New unmanned robots called mini autonomous underwater vehicles are being used more often. Many of them can be released at once and send back data over a period of time. They could only stay 20 minutes, as one of the windows began cracking from the pressure.
One of the most fascinating and surprising things scientists are discovering is the prevalence of biofluorescent creatures. Even tetrapods, such as sea turtles have been found to glow in the dark of the ocean. Unlike bioluminescent creatures, which make their own light through a chemical reaction, biofluorescent creatures glow when certain wavelengths of light shine on them.
Scientists have discovered over 250 species of fish that use biofluorescence and believe this may be a method of communication in the deep ocean.
As we learn more about the oceans, we can hopefully learn how to save them and also ourselves from extinction.
- UnSeen Oceans Exhibit, American Museum of Natural History
- Deepsea_Challenger, wikipedia.org