Science

Deepest-Ever Sub Dive into the Mariana Trench Finds Plastic Waste

Victor Vescovo, an American explorer broke the record for the deepest ever dive by descending nearly 11km (seven miles) to the deepest place in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. But unfortunately, his feat revealed plastic waste on the deep seafloor. Vescovo spent four hours exploring the bottom of the trench in his custom-built submersible to withstand the immense pressure of the deep. He found sea creatures but also spotted a plastic bag and sweet wrappers.

This is only the third time humans have reached the ocean’s extreme depths. The first dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench was undertaken US Navy lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard in a vessel named the bathyscaphe Trieste in 1960. After that in 2012, ace movie director James Cameron made a solo plunge in his bright green sub.

Victor Vescovo’s descent to 10,927m (35,849ft) underwater is now the deepest by 11m making him the new record holder. Overall, Mr. Vescovo and his team completed five dives to the bottom of the trench during this recent expedition. They even deployed robotic landers to explore the remote terrain.

Mr. Vescovo shared, “It is almost indescribable how excited all of us are about achieving what we just did. This submarine and its mother ship, along with its extraordinarily talented expedition team, took marine technology to a ridiculously higher new level by diving – rapidly and repeatedly – into the deepest, harshest, area of the ocean.”

The first pioneer Don Walsh who witnessed the dive, told BBC News, “I salute Victor Vescovo and his outstanding team for the successful completion of their historic explorations into the Mariana Trench. Six decades ago, Jacques Piccard and I were the first to visit that deepest place in the world’s oceans. Now in the winter of my life, it was a great honor to be invited on this expedition to a place of my youth.”

The expedition team claims to have discovered four new species of amphipods i.e. prawn-like crustaceans, spotted a spoon worm 7,000m-down and a pink snailfish at a depth of 8,000m. They also found brightly colored rocky outcrops, probably created by seabed microbes and collected samples of rock from the seafloor. Human impact on the planet was also apparent with plastic litter on the ocean bed. The scientists now intend to check whether the creatures collected by them contain microplastics.

This recent dive is a part of the Five Deeps expedition to explore the deepest points in each of the five oceans on Earth, funded by Mr. Vescovo, a private equity investor and explorer who has earlier climbed the highest peaks on the planet’s seven continents. In the last six months, they have completed dives in the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean (8,376m/27,480ft down), the South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean (7,433m/24,388ft) and the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean (7,192m/23,596ft). The final challenge of reaching the bottom of the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean is scheduled for August 2019.

The dives were done in the 4.6m-long, 3.7m-high submersible named the DSV Limiting Factor which was custom built by the American company Triton Submarines as a vessel fit for repeated dives to any part of the ocean. With a core of 9cm-thick titanium pressure hull that accommodate two people, the sub can withstand the crushing pressure of 1,000 bars found at the bottom of the ocean and operate in the pitch black and near-freezing temperatures. These adverse conditions also made capturing footage a challenge for the Atlantic Productions team working on a documentary for the Discovery Channel.

Anthony Geffen, creative director of Atlantic Productions, calls the ‘ Five Deeps expedition’ his most complicated filming ever, “Our team had to pioneer new camera systems that could be mounted on the submersible, operate at up to 10,000m below sea level and work with robotic landers with camera systems that would allow us to film Victor’s submersible on the bottom of the ocean. We also had to design new rigs that would go inside Victor’s submersible and capture every moment of Victor’s dives.”

After the completion of the Five Deeps expedition later this year, the state-of-the-art submersible will be handed over to science institutions so researchers can continue to use it.

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