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For centuries, explorers have journeyed to the far reaches of the human world. Centuries ago, explorers sailed upon the ocean and discovered lands unknown to them. New generations of pioneers charted those lands, travelling by foot, by horse, and by buggy. In the 1960s, scientists and explorers turned their attention skyward. In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Eleven Americans followed in his footsteps.
But what of Earth’s oceans? The global ocean (divided into five areas: Pacific, Atlantic, Southern, Indian, and Arctic) covers 71% of the earth’s surface. Yet, despite its expanse (or, perhaps because of it), 95% of the ocean remains unexplored. The ocean presents a final realm for explorers to dive into.
The deepest part of the world’s ocean is known as the Mariana Trench. The Trench lies beneath the Pacific Ocean, off the eastern coast of to the Mariana Islands. (Locate this region on a map.) The Trench is 1,580 miles long and 43 miles wide.
On Sunday, March 25, 2012, filmmaker and explorer James Cameron made the journey to Challenger Deep. Found at the southern end of the Mariana Trench, Challenger Deep is the deepest known point of the ocean; it lies seven miles below the water’s surface. There is much to explore here. Bathed in darkness, brutally cold, and under extraordinary pressure, this is not a welcoming environment. Challenger Deep has been visited by only two other men in history. Jacque Piccard and Don Walsh traveled to the ocean depths in 1960.
This week, dive into an online exploration of Challenger Deep and James Cameron’s mission to the very bottom of earth’s ocean.
Ask most people, “Who is James Cameron?” and the response will likely include that he is a director. Indeed, Cameron directed Hollywood’s highest grossing films of all time: Titanic, and Avatar. He is also responsible for the Terminator, and the Alien series. This may not be who you would expect to explore the depths of the ocean. James Cameron connects the dots and explains how his childhood experiences, movies, and explorations intersect in this TED Talk. Here Cameron shares how he began a “journey of discovery” and how it has come “full circle.” How did childhood experiences influence Cameron? What did Cameron learn from space training and oceanography? Explain how his experiences came “full circle.” What is the difference between failure and fear? Do you agree with Cameron? What messages do you take from Cameron’s talk? What questions do you have for him?
National Geographic followed Cameron’s expedition to Challenger Deep. Visit their site, DeepSea Challenge, to do the same. On the homepage, read the introduction. Scroll down to learn more about the technology and the science behind the mission.
In 2009, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was established by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. It extends 61 million acres, and is one of the world’s largest protected marine territories. Explore some features of the Trench. Then, to appreciate the magnitude of this dive, investigate the size of the Mariana Trench. What could be learned from a trip to Challenger Deep and why is that information important? What about this expedition do you find most interesting?
Learn more about the expedition. Watch the short video found in the right menu. (It is worth enlarging the screen.) What are the objectives of the mission? What creatures do you expect to find at the ocean’s deepest point? What risks does Cameron mention? What other risks do you predict? Read more about the expedition.
What are the risks and dangers associated with this venture? Which danger would concern you most? Read about the 1960 expedition. What dangers did they face? In what ways is this dive different than that earlier one?
James Cameron may be the face of this mission; however, alongside him stands an international team of scientists. Who else is on this team? What expertise do they have? What roles do they play?
The public part of this expedition was the trip down to Challenger Deep. However, long before that could happen, a submersible had to be designed, and tested. The submersible, DeepSea Challenger, was created just for this expedition. It is the result of years of work. What makes this sub unique?
At its heart, DeepSea Challenge is a scientific expedition. See photographs of deepsea creatures. Read about the unique biology of the frigid, dark depths of the ocean. Read about the geology of the Mariana Trench. What might scientists learn from expeditions to Challenger Deep? Why might this information be helpful to biologists and geologists?
Finally, read the National Geographic article about the completed mission. Watch the video; it includes images of Cameron as he emerges from the submersible, and excerpts from the news conference that followed the completion of the expedition.
In addition to being the first solo trip to Challenger Deep, what makes this expedition noteworthy? Examine a timeline of ocean exploration. How does this timeline help to explain the significance of this unique mission? What gaps exist in ocean exploration? Why do you think Challenger Deep has been ignored by explorers for so long? What expeditions would you recommend in the short-term and long-term?