Last Friday Jim dropped off his sweet new ride, Deepsea Challenger, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Challenger is the green machine that took Cameron into the deepest spot on the ocean floor, Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.
Why donate to WHOI? Cameron explained Friday that Challenger was built by a group of people who had never worked on a human piloted vehicle before resulting in some innovative solutions. The idea was to “transition technologies,” on the sub to the ocean community, said Susan Avery (WHOI’s President and Director), so that the technology could make its way “into the DNA,” of submersibles charged with similar tasks, said Cameron. Plus, by leaving it at WHOI, Cameron can still take it for a spin when he’s not busy making films about blue bipeds.
The welcome ceremony was, what I imagine, status quo for these sorts of soirees. “How are the ecoloi?” asked one scientist of his colleague, while another group of sea-geeks discussed the merits of theoretical physics versus…..other kinds of physics. Question’s to Cameron included What would he be up to next? Avatar Two and Three. What was it like in the sub? Cramped (he actually sits in the small white ball pictured on the left which goes into the green vehicle on the right). The guest of honor wore grey. Pizza and soda were served.
The conference reached its peak when question-asking was deferred to the local Chatam Middle School students. Would Challenger work in space? asked one. While Cameron confessed this was very much a case of “stump the expert,” he guessed that the submersible would work in the great beyond, but would need, literally, a few extra bolts. The current door relies heavily on ocean pressure to keep it shut and since space’s external pressure is less, extra door-closing power would be required.
Mr. Cameron’s and his dive have been the subject of much media attention, so I thought I’d give a little airtime to the trench itself for your dinner party, fun fact repertoire. In the spirit of Dixiecology’s last post, we’ll call this Get to Know Your Neighbor: Mariana Trench. So, without further adieu, meet Mariana and her crown jewel, Challenger Deep:
Looks: Shaped like a 1,500+ mile long croissant, with an average width of 43 miles.
Age: Mariana is located on one of earth’s most ancient seabeds, (~180 million years old) which is covered by a yellow goo of decayed organisms.
Favorite Food: Oceanic Crust. It’s the spot where the Pacific plate dives or subducts beneath the Philippine plate, a phenomena responsible for the trench’s formation.
Posse: Mariana is just one of earth’s 20 major trenches, 17 of which lie in the Pacific. Deep sea trenches are anything over ~24,000 miles deep and usually occur at subduction zones like Mariana. According to Cameron on Friday, all the deep sea trenches in the world equal an area larger than North America
Best Known For: Challenger Deep, located at the southern end of Mariana, is the deepest point and is located about 200 miles southwest of Guam.
Depth: 36,070 miles in the Challenger (That’s 14,428 velociraptors, which are little buggers at two and a half feet tall….but that’s for another posting. Everest is only 11,611 raptors.) Dark and a bit above freezing.
Nemesis: Parts of the Arctic Seabed. Sure, Mariana is the deepest, but due to the earth’s elliptical shape (the moon’s gravitational pull causes the equatorial regions to bulge outward), parts of the arctic seabed are actually closer to the core.
Anything Good Down There? Cameron found a sea cucumber−which looks like it sounds−and many new microbes. Cameron also found an organism bearing the same molecule as a drug being studied for Alzheimer’s treatment. 
Brilliant name. Who thought that one up? The wonderful folks of the 1875 HMS Challenger were the first to measure the abyss using a weighted rope.