James Cameron's Underwater Documentary 'Deepsea Challenge'

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There better be a film made about Cameron's dive. Who would fit the part?

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tykjen wrote:There better be a film made about Cameron's dive. Who would fit the part?
Christian Bale would be perfect.

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The following is an email from James Cameron to Don Walsh, co-pilot of the bathyscaphe Trieste , following Cameron’s successful 8,000-meter dive to the bottom of the New Britain Trench. Don Walsh will be joining the expedition in Guam, prior to Cameron’s dive to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.

March 7, 2012

Don,

The 8000m dive went very well. Not an unqualified success, since the manip was balky and my push core sediment sample washed out on ascent because the sample door wouldn’t stow all the way, and because of the speed of the flow over the vehicle on ascent (5 knots average). But overall the vehicle performed like a champ. Plenty of power, and even though I lost one thruster, I still had 11 left, so the massive-redundancy approach worked. I never lost functionality. All lights and cameras worked. Sonar was balky… that’s going to need some work.

Bottom time close to 5 hours, range of exploration about 1.5 km horizontal, and about 300m vertical along the trench wall, which was like the Grand Canyon, vertical faces interspersed with angled scree slopes. Dramatic terrain.

The ponded sediment in the center of the trench was the finest I’ve ever seen. When the thrust-wash just barely kissed it, it formed silken veils undulating across the bottom, and then it would rise and hang in tendrils like ectoplasm. Not at all like the typical turbidite plains of abyssal depths. Where I dove the basin of ponded sediment was 1.5 km across, flat as a billiard table, and virtually featureless. It actually ended at a well-defined “beach” where the normal rocks and sediment commenced, terracing upward to the fault scarps. I explored up the scarps onto a plateau.

The small exposed rock faces had large communities of white anemones about 1 foot long. Hanging gardens. It was a completely distinct micro-habitat from the flat basin.

Out on the plain the dominant fauna were 1′ diameter jellies that would lie on the bottom or swim about 2 meters up. When disturbed they would fly off the bottom. There also were large numbers of amphipods in all sizes. The baited lander captured images of incredible aggregations, including individuals close to a foot long. I tried but was unable to rendezvous with the lander because the sonar was not cooperating. Normally the lander is a very bright target, and it should have been easy to find on that flat plain. But without sonar, nor accurate coordinates from the surface, it was a visual search, which is very limited. It might have been 50 meters to my left and I went right by it. I could have done an expanding-square search pattern, but I decided it wasn’t the best use of my power, when there was real exploring to do.

Actual deepest depth for the dive was 26,791′ (8221m). Initial descent speed was 4.5 knots, attenuating near the bottom to about 1.5 kt, before I trimmed neutral with a few small shot dumps totalling about 50lbs. I drove the final 100m down on thrust, very slowly (because I didn’t trust my altimeter yet… we’d just met and were only dating)… and parked on the bottom using about 10% downthrust.

Ascent speed was 5.7 knots slowing in the upper water column to 4.8. The soft ballast system functioned perfectly, giving the sub an additional 400kg of lift. The bag pops out automatically at about 200m depth and inflates slowly after the sub reaches the surface. It is an oil-over-gas system of our own design, which uses a spring-loaded poppet valve to open a bottle of nitrogen at 3500 psi when the external pressure balances on descent. The valve locks open, charging the bag, and a reservoir of silicon oil fills the tank so it doesn’t implode at depth. On ascent, the gas boils out of the silicon, filling the float bag in about 3 minutes after surfacing.

Surfacing at 4.8 knots is dramatic. I point the boom camera and the 1000w spotlight straight up. I can see the surface shimmering from about 100′ down. There’s a real sense of “ground rush” as the shimmering patch grows rapidly bigger, filling the “sky” above the sub. Then BWOOSH! an explosion of foam and bubbles, and the sub pogos back down about 5m, then rises again and comes to rest. I call it “Splash-up”… bastardizing a term from the 60′s space missions.

The only significant problem on the dive is that one of the six battery buses failed without adequate warning as I was making preparations to ascend. Some fault in the battery management system comms inside an external PBOF multi-bus box, probably related to water ingress, but I haven’t gotten a report yet from the electronics guys.

Unfortunately the failure took out the A-comms system, which was on that particular bus, so I lost comms completely. Fortunately the back-up modem, which is powered with its own independent battery, kept transmitting, so they knew I was coming up when the depth numbers started changing. They cleared back about a klick from my last known position and waited. I surfaced about 1500m from the ship, but plainly visible. That’s why I personally like night recoveries. The sub has so many lights and strobes it’s like a UFO mothership, visible to the horizon at night, from the bridge wing of a ship the size of Mermaid Sapphire.

Sitting down there at 27000′, alone in the dark, with no comms, no contact whatsoever with the world so far above, and nothing but the ingenuity of the engineering to get me back… it’s simultaneously scary and exhilarating. It’s the precipice we put ourselves on by choice, to test ourselves and our machines. I configured the cameras to get a good shot of the weights coming off and hitting the seafloor in 3D, but I can’t say I spent an undue amount of time on the lighting. I wanted to see those babies jettisoned as quick as possible. It’s a good feeling when 350kg comes off, with the characteristic “SHOONK” as the weight carriages run down the slide-rails.

Then I pulled the breaker on the shot-hopper magnet, and let the other 150kg of shot pour out, watching on the boom camera as it spiraled down into darkness in the trailing vortices under the sub. Then I just powered down everything I didn’t need and sat hunched in the dark, waiting… watching the numbers on the depth indicator count down toward the surface.

It was an interesting ascent. Virtually silent except for the soft whir of the scrubber fan, and the rustle of water vortexing down across the fairing at 5 knots. There was a slight rhythmic rock to the sub, due to vortex-shedding, which I normally didn’t notice because I’m usually too busy doing things… comms, photography etc. But in this low power contingency, I was just sitting there in the dark listening and feeling the sub. It was fascinating to imagine 8 kilometers of water speeding by vertically. I imagined the pressure coming off slowly as the ocean loosened its iron fisted grip.

You’d have loved it.

More to come…

See you in Guam.

JC

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Now I demand a film about Cameron's life. Ever since he quit being a truck driver anyway.

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The dive should be streamed live online. I'd be glued to my computer for sure.

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Biology - DEEPSEA CHALLENGE and Ocean Science

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At the frigid bottoms of Earth’s ocean trenches, scientists have discovered life-forms where they once thought none could survive. From gelatinous animals called holothurians to shrimp-like creatures named amphipods, the animals of the deep can quickly start to resemble alien beings. But they live here, on planet Earth, and scientists hope to discover more new life-forms during the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition.

In addition to adding new animals to the list of known species, studying how these animals survive at depth could lead to new developments in biotechnology and even provide clues about how to search for life on other planets.

While some samples of creatures from the Mariana Trench have been taken, most have been collected by trawling or by sending remotely operated vehicles. The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER is taking a completely different approach. With multiple cameras and the most advanced lighting ever taken to such depths, the sub will allow a human to look around and interpret the surrounding environment directly. In addition, when a sample is taken, sophisticated film equipment can record where it came from, what else was there, and any activity that might have been going on. When taken as a whole, the various samples, data points, and experiences collected on this project will result in baseline data that can be used to monitor future changes in the trench as research continues in life’s most extreme environment.

Below are some of the areas the expedition scientists will be examining.

MICROORGANISMS

Scientists are particularly interested in the microorganisms that may be found in the Challenger Deep. Analyzing how deep-sea microbes survive could impact biomedicine and biotechnology. For example, these tiny organisms may be able to resist heavy metals that are toxic to other organisms. They also can feed upon hydrocarbons such as methane or various oils. Some of these creatures have membranes high in omega-3 fatty acids, which prevent the animals from freezing. Studying everything from how their membranes operate to how they replicate their DNA could lead to more discoveries. With careful handling, deep-sea bacteria can be repressurized in special chambers to deep-ocean pressures, isolated, and cultivated in the laboratory, providing a continuing source of biomaterials. The genomes of these bacteria will be unraveled using the latest techniques, revealing their evolutionary relationships with other life.

LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS

Studying life in the extreme environment of the Challenger Deep could also provide insight into how life might survive on other planets. The cold, high-pressure, low-to-no-light conditions of the Mariana Trench are similar in some respects to conditions thought to exist elsewhere in the solar system, such as on some icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The temperature and pressure conditions at the Challenger Deep are comparable to what scientists think any life would have to tolerate deep within Europa’s ocean.

Life at the Challenger Deep has evolved special mechanisms for adapting to this environment. For instance, the foraminifera don’t have shells; instead they have tough organic walls. The expedition’s astrobiologist will be analyzing the composition and chemistry of these organisms to better understand how they might help guide our search for life elsewhere.

CREATURES OF THE DEEP

Relatively little is known about the animals that dwell on the deep-ocean floor. Scientists hope to identify new species.

This journey is not just about general discovery. Below are some of the creatures that have already been found in the deep ocean and could be studied further during the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE.

Giant Single-celled Xenophyophores: Recent footage from National Geographic Dropcams deployed in the Mariana Trench revealed these incredible creatures, which can reach 4 inches (10 centimeters) in length and which each have many nuclei but just one enormous cell. They can take various forms, from disclike to wildly undulating, and they consume food by surrounding and absorbing it, similar to more familiar microscopic single-celled creatures such as amoebas.

Fish: Snailfish (Pseudoliparis amblystomopsis) currently hold the record as the deepest living fish ever photographed, having been filmed 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers) beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean in 2008. But Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh of the Trieste bathyscaphe mission reported seeing a flatfish when on the bottom of the trench in the 1960s. Since they had no underwater cameras and didn’t collect the fish as a sample, many have dismissed the sighting as a trick of the eye. Walsh says he’s certain that what they saw was a fish. The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition could potentially confirm the Trieste pilots’ story half a century after their sighting.

Crustaceans: Amphipods are some of the most commonly encountered deep-sea creatures living on and above the seafloor. Related to shrimp, these armadillo-like crustaceans will devour almost anything they can find, from bacteria, phytoplankton, and fish to the remains of large animals that have come to rest on the ocean bottom—and they’ve even been known to prey on each other.

Echinoderms: Sea cucumbers (holothurians) are relatives of starfish and are found at all depths in the ocean. They amble across the deep seafloor, vacuuming up mud and digesting the minute organic particles found within. This strategy serves the sea cucumber well—in places they can make up 90 percent of the biomass in the deep sea, making them one of the dominant forms of life on Earth. Strange shapes, patterns, and forms of motion continue to surprise and intrigue scientists with each discovery.

Mollusks: Water pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench makes growing a shell a challenge. At great depths calcium carbonate, the material that makes seashells hard and strong, is slowly corroded by seawater. But this hasn’t stopped snails and bivalves from colonizing the trenches. Snails with soft shells have been discovered in the Japan Trench, and dense communities of clams inhabit trench sites where methane-rich fluids percolate through geological faults in the seafloor.

Cnidarians (Sea Anemones, Coral, and Jellyfish): Cnidarians could be encountered on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER’s journey to the depths, on or above the trench floor and on the steep, rocky walls of the trench. Jellyfish and their relatives have been photographed drifting at great depths, but none have ever been collected, and it’s unknown if they belong to a species new to science. Rocky outcrops deep in the trench may also harbor undiscovered corals, anemones, and other organisms that need a hard surface to grow upon.

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Great reads. Thanks for the updates IWFNM

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Didn't some other people try this and died horrifically from decompression?

I mean, I don't particularly like Cameron, but still...pretty risky.

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Read about James Cameron’s most recent record-breaking dive in his own words as expressed in a personal email he wrote to Don Walsh, co-pilot of the bathyscaphe Trieste: http://deepseachallenge.com/latest-news ... -loved-it/

Follow along: @DeepChallenge

March 7, 2012
Don,
The 8000m dive went very well. Not an unqualified success…But overall the vehicle performed like a champ…I lost comms completely… Sitting down there at 27000′, alone in the dark, with no comms, no contact whatsoever with the world so far above, and nothing but the ingenuity of the engineering to get me back… it’s simultaneously scary and exhilarating. It’s the precipice we put ourselves on by choice, to test ourselves and our machines…I was just sitting there in the dark listening and feeling the sub. It was fascinating to imagine 8 kilometers of water speeding by vertically. [As I ascended] I imagined the pressure coming off slowly as the ocean loosened its iron fisted grip.
You’d have loved it.
More to come…
See you in Guam.

JC

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Joined: June 2010

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