I have a long-standing fascination with the deep ocean. Hence my interest in Her Deepness Sylvia Earl, and my books on what’s known so far: Van Dover’s “The Octopus’s Garden” and “The Ecology of Deep-sea Hydrothermal Vents”, Broad’s “The Universe Below”, Rice’s “Deep Ocean”, Chave and Malahoff’s “In Deeper Waters” and Cameron’s “Aliens of the Deep”.
It was originally thought that not much lived in the cold, dark and high pressure, but then nobody had really looked. In fact, there’s a bunch of strange animals down there, a large food web, relying at base not on sunlight as the source of life but on sulfur-eating bacteria. You can see images of some deep sea animals at the NOAA website here and here.
In places there are vents spewing super-hot (measured up to 464 degrees C) water containing mineral sulfides, and cold seeps with springs releasing methane and hydrogen sulfide-rich water.
Now James Cameron, he of “Avatar” and other multi-buck-making movies and explorer extraordinaire, has financed and had built a submersible to take him to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. He’s already gone on a test expedition to 7260 metres in the New Britain Trench (not quite to the bottom of it), and writes about his experience here.
A few things went wrong:
“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.”
But nothing he couldn’t get out of. Better for it to happen here than on the main expedition, going to 10,900 metres.
Assuming success, Cameron will be only the third person to go to the very bottom of the sea. The first two were Walsh and Piccard in 1960.
You can read the expedition journal here. I’ll be following it with bated breath.