A couple of weeks ago we told you about James Cameron’s plans to dive the Mariana Trench, a massive canyon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that marks the deepest point on our planet. This past weekend Cameron saw those plans come to fruition when he crawled inside his specially built submersible – dubbed the DeepSea Challenger – and piloted the vehicle nearly seven miles beneath the surface. Once there, he not only set a record for the deepest solo dive in history, but he also became the first person to catch a real glimpse of the murkiest depths of the ocean floor.
Cameron’s journey began with a two-and-a-half hour descent into the Challenger Deep, a cold, sunless abyss that has only been visited by man on one previous occasion. His original plan was to spend six hours exploring those depths but several malfunctions to the sub caused him to cut short his visit. First a mechanical arm designed to collect samples from the ocean floor refused to work and later, the starboard thrusters on the vehicle failed as well. With those engines out, Cameron couldn’t maneuver properly, which prompted him to return to the surface about three hours ahead of schedule. His ascent took approximately 70 minutes to complete.
The bottom of the Mariana Trench was previously only visited by ocean explorers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard back in 1960. When they made that historic dive over 52 years ago they didn’t have the sophisticated equipment that Cameron carried with him on his expedition. In fact, Walsh and Piccard didn’t even have lights that could penetrate those depths and as a result, Cameron is the first person to actually see the bottom of the trench with any clarity. He described that place as desolate and isolated, and even compared it to the surface of the moon. He also says that he found only very small organisms living at those incredible depths.
Even while wearing his explorer’s cap Cameron can’t get away from his filmmaking roots. The entire voyage was filmed in high definition 3D and the footage will be used in an upcoming documentary on sea exploration. The director expects to collect more video for the film on future dives as well, and has already indicated that a second dive could take place in a matter of days or weeks. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they have to show us.
Find out more about expedition at DeepSeaChallenge.com.
[Photo credit: Mark Thiessen, National Geographic]