James Cameron back on surface after deepest ocean dive

 

James Cameron: "It's a heck of a ride, you're just screaming down and screaming back up"

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Hollywood director James Cameron has returned to the surface after plunging nearly 11km (seven miles) down to the deepest place in the ocean, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific.

He made the solo descent in a submarine called Deepsea Challenger, taking over two hours to reach the bottom.

He spent more than four hours exploring the ocean floor, before a speedy ascent back to the surface.

His craft was kitted out with cameras so he could film the deep in 3D.

"It was absolutely the most remote, isolated place on the planet," Mr Cameron told BBC News.

"I really feel like in one day I've been to another planet and come back."

This is only the second manned expedition to the ocean's deepest depths - the first took place in 1960 when US Navy Lt Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard spent about 20 minutes on the ocean floor in a bathyscaphe called the Trieste.

Lt Walsh, who is now in his 80s, joined Mr Cameron and his team of engineers out at sea for the dive.

"It did bring back a lot of memories, just being out there and remembering what we did there," he told BBC News. "It was really grand."

James Cameron after returning to the surface Director James Cameron resurfaced after spending four hours on the ocean floor

Mr Cameron has spent the past few years working in secret with his team of engineers to design and build the craft, which weighs 11 tonnes and is more than 7m (23ft) long.

He describes it as a "vertical torpedo" that slices through the water allowing him a speedy descent.

The extraordinary attention to detail prevented him from suffering from too much nervousness.

"I can't say that I wasn't apprehensive in the last few days and even the weeks leading up to this, but there's another part of my mind that really understands the engineering and knows why we did everything the way we did," he said.

"Any apprehension I had I left at the hatch. When I went into the sub, I was all pilot at that point."

What lurks in the deep?

Angler fish

The tiny compartment that the film-maker sits in is made from thick steel, which is able to resist the 1,000 atmospheres of pressure he experienced at full ocean depth.

The rest of the vertical column is made from a material called syntactic foam - a solid made mostly of hollow "microballoons" - giving it enough buoyancy to float back up.

The sub has so many lights and cameras that it is like an underwater TV studio - with Mr Cameron able to direct and film the action from within. He intends to release a documentary.

It also has robotic arms, allowing him to collect samples of rocks and soils, and a team of researchers are working alongside the director to identify any new species. He says that science is key to his mission.

But the first task was to get to the inky depths - which despite untold hours of training, still surprised Mr Cameron.

"My reference frame was going to the Titanic 10 or 12 years ago, and thinking that was the deepest place I could ever imagine," he recalled.

"On this dive I blazed past Titanic depth at 12,000 ft and was only a third of the way down, and the numbers keep going up and up and up on the depth gauge.

"You just kind of look at them with a sense of disbelief, and you wonder if the bottom is ever going to be there."

At the bottom, Mr Cameron encountered incredibly fine silt, which he had to be careful not to disturb. He said he spotted a few small, as-yet unidentified life forms but found the depths to be a "sterile, almost desert-like place".

Before the dive, James Cameron told the BBC's Rebecca Morelle why he was risking it all

While manned exploration had until now seen a 52-year hiatus, scientists have used two robotic unmanned vehicles to explore the Mariana Trench: Japan's Kaiko made a dive there in 1995 and the US-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's vessel Nereus explored the deep in 2008.

Other teams, such as Scotland's Oceanlab, have also been dropping simple landers loaded with bait and cameras into the deepest ocean.

While places like the Mariana Trench were once thought to be of little interest, there has been a recent resurgence of scientific interest in the deep.

Scientists are finding life that can resist the colossal pressures, from deep-sea fish to shrimp-like scavengers called amphipods, some of which can reach 30cm (1ft) long.

They are also trying to understand the role that deep seas trenches play in earthquakes - these cracks in the sea floor are formed at the boundary of two tectonic plates and some believe the push and pull taking place deep underwater could be the cause of major earthquakes, such as the 2011 quake that resulted in such devastation in Japan.

But some scientists question whether manned exploration provides the best platform for scientific research.

Dr Alan Jamieson, from Oceanlab, said: "I think what James Cameron has done is a really good achievement in terms of human endeavour and technology.

"But my feeling is that manned submersibles like this are limited in scientific capabilities when compared to other systems, mostly due to the fact there is someone in it. Remote or autonomous systems can collect a far greater volume of useful scientific data for far less money."

Engineer David Wotherspoon explains how Deepsea Challenger works

Mr Cameron says he does not want this dive to the deep to be a one-off, and wants to use it as a platform for ocean exploration.

His craft may also soon be joined by other manned submersibles vying to reach the ocean's deepest depths.

One of these crafts, the DeepFlight Challenger, belongs to former real estate investor Chris Welsh, and is backed by Virgin's Richard Branson. It is about to begin its water trials.

Its design is based on a plane, and Mr Welsh says he will be "flying" down to the deepest ocean.

Google's Eric Schmidt has helped to finance another sub being built by a US marine technology company called Doer Marine. They want this sub to carry two to three people, and are placing a heavy emphasis on science.

And Triton submarines, a Florida-based submersible company, intends to build a sub with a giant glass sphere at its centrepiece to take tourists down to the deepest ocean for $250,000 a ticket.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 298.

    This was a rich man's ego trip it had nothing to do with science or innovation. Robots have gone down there since the 1960 manned dive that was much more thrilling and new. It's like the Austrian who want's to beat the balloon high dive first made for scientific investigation and the space program. These people just want their mug on the cover of National Geographic.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 297.

    213 Bibi says... There are millions all over the world without food.

    Yes, and the eu throw billions down black holes on sunken broken projects.Try them for a tap.
    Cameron used his own money to advance science, as food shortages grow many people in the future might well be thanking him for the risks he took spending and using his own money-that could well prove useful in harvesting from the sea.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 296.

    As has been said, there isn't anything down there that can't be filmed and investigated by an un-manned submersible at half the cost and no risk to life. It seems a fundamentally pointless gimmick to me.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 295.

    214.
    Jeff
    3 Hours ago

    The industrial revolution, and all man's other achievements are all very impressive, but shouldn't be at the detriment to all other life on Earth.

    There appears to be someone sharing my User ID, just for the record I didn't post this

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 294.

    This wasn't just a rich guy and his toy. This was a genuine scientific expedition with further dives planned. The National Geographic Society, and Rolex co-sponsored the submersible. They also involved the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, University of Hawaii, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the University of Guam.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 293.

    186.powermeerkat

    Socialists blah blah HUMAN MISERY! blah Soviets blah blah Nazis blah EUSSR blah
    ---------------------------------------------------------

    Yawn. Why do some people have to turn everything into some childish polemic? This is a story of adventure and endeavour, not tories or lefties or anyone else ending in 'ies'. Could everyone please bin the party political crap?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 292.

    The day will come where we won't be able to live on the face of the planet and with thoughts of us having to move to another planet, scientific exploration of the ocean floor is essential to see if building cities on the ocean floor is possible. Science aside, i envy the guy for having the ability to make his life long dreams come true. Good for him!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 291.

    James Cameron is spending HIS money how HE wishes, what right has anybody to judge him?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 290.

    This was not a scientific mission, it was somthing a very rich famous hollyowood director had always dreamt of doing and has now done. Maybe this will make his movies better who knows but he was certainly not there to do any "exploration for rare minerals." I do love that this article was chosen to go between the Nuclear arms treaty and fate of EU/Greece, shows us what our priorites are.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 289.

    Not enough! I hope that Cameron, being the film maker that he is, will be making a documentary out of his experience.
    It's amazing and exciting. Sure to get excellent ratings.
    My concern: no matter what we find, no matter where we find it - the life & material will be exploited for all the money we can squeeze out of it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 288.

    How can all these miserable whingers dare to get into bed, knowing they'll probably die there?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 287.

    To boldly go ! The human adventure continues........and a lot cheaper than space exploration.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 286.

    Fascinating... what an amazing story to tell your grandchildren... Congrats to James C and his supporting crew.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 285.

    Why don't we just do it the easy way? Pull the plug out at the bottom of the ocean, then we can all see what it looks like.
    Come back Spike Milligan, all is forgiven. ;)

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 284.

    For a fraction of the cost of 'one' of these sub's, a power and fibre optic line could be run along the trench with a sub-satellite sitting on the bottom, one every km. Each would take real time HD Video with multiple camera's and also have lighting to attract the creatures of the deep. The cable would surface -Guam or Japan and fed into the Internet.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 283.

    Could we swap Camerons please!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 282.

    I read the negative comments on here and my heart sinks.
    Exploration is, arguably, one of the finer human traits. It is this desire to seek out new places and experiences that first drove our ancestors to leave the relative safety and comfort of their caves and explore the furthest reaches of their surroundings. It is a vital component of the thing we call the Human Spirit. Well done Mr Cameron.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 281.

    Well done James Cameron and all of his team for this amazing achievement. With so many stories in the news these days about violence/misery and lack of achievement - it is fantastic to see that this man has achieved his dreams!! I am sure it was also a monumental day for all of his team, probably making some of their dreams come true too.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 280.

    I want to see the pictures

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 279.

    "If these personal individuals were taxed appropriately and not allowed to amass such obscene levels of wealth, organisations like NASA et al would flourish."


    Private money has founded a lot of v. useful research (cf. pioneerring Keck telescopes at Mauna Kea)

    NASA has been castrated by cuts introduced by Obama, a community organizer/labor lawyer without a vision.

 

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