DeepSea Challenge UPDATE: Expedition Moves to the Next Phase


Guam – The National Geographic has released the following UPDATE on the ongoing “DeepSea Challenge” expedition led by filmmaker and explorer James Cameron.


Cameron and the “Mermaid Sapphire” carrying his submersible the “DeepSea Challenger” arrived back on Guam Thursday morning to continue their exploration of the Marianas Trench.

[The “Mermaid Sapphire” back in Apra Harbor Thursday April 5]

READ the National Geographic’s statement in FULL below:

After its historic achievement of making the first successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, the joint scientific expedition from James Cameron, National Geographic and Rolex, shifts from an active expedition at sea to its next phase of scientific analysis, long-term planning and solicitation of support for science around the expedition as of Friday, April 6, 2012. The prototype submersible, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, piloted by Cameron to the deepest point on the planet, will undergo further engineering and diagnostics in advance of future dives. Ongoing examination of the photographic and scientific evidence by scientists and others continues.

Summary of the expedition to date:

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible completed a total of 13 test and research dives off the coasts of Australia and Papua New Guinea and at the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench between Jan. 31 and April 3, 2012. On March 8 Cameron set a record of a single-manned dive to 27,119 feet (5.13 miles/8.226 km) in the New Britain Trench off Papua New Guinea. The lander Mike, an unmanned research vehicle associated with the expedition, captured images of enormous amphipod, the deepest instance of gigantism reported to date.

On March 26, Cameron successfully completed the dive to the Challenger Deep, reaching 35,756 feet (6.77 miles/10.9 km) and making history as the first individual to reach full ocean depth in a solo manned vehicle. Cameron spent about three hours on the bottom documenting what he saw and collecting samples. During the dive to Challenger Deep, Cameron reported that the manipulator arm on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER malfunctioned when hydraulic fluid leaked, but that the prototype submersible was a success. Cameron said later: “The sub worked well as a scientific platform, and we learned a great deal. It’s our hope that others will be encouraged to explore and illuminate this new frontier.”  

Ron Allum, chief engineer of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible and Cameron’s partner in the building of the sub, completed a dive to about 3,608 feet (0.68 miles/1.1 km) on April 1 off the coast of Ulithi, an atoll located in the Federated States of Micronesia. He collected samples and documented life at that depth in rare detail. Among his many contributions to the design of the sub and to the ultimate success of the expedition was the invention of Isofloat™ syntactic foam that enabled the sub to withstand the tremendous pressure of the deep and to remain buoyant and return to the surface in minimal time.  

Chief expedition scientist Doug Bartlett of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego, confirms the large scope of the scientific material that will be published in peer-reviewed papers in the months and years to come. On test dives as well as the dive to the Mariana Trench, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER collected samples, all of which have been preserved for future study at the on-ship laboratory the team of seven scientists on the expedition created. “That material and the documentary evidence captured by the sub will keep researchers working in the fields of marine biology, microbiology, astrobiology, marine geology and geophysics for years to come,” said Bartlett, a microbiologist. “It’s too early in the scientific process to draw conclusions, but we saw many surprises, like the giant amphipod at about 26,246 feet (4.97 miles/8 km). And this is only the beginning.” Another scientist on board, Patricia Fryer, a marine geologist from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawai’i, stresses the video data provides evidence of exposures of thick lava sequences at the deepest levels of the New Britain Trench and confirmation of access to intricate slump deposit features at the deep inner trench slope in the Challenger Deep. The latter are consistent with morphology of features predicted in recent publications to be related to major tsunamigenic earthquakes in subduction zones.

The science team’s work continued until April 4 at the Mariana Trench. The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition lander was deployed within the Sirena Deep to a depth of within 656 feet (200 meters) of the Challenger Deep. Video captured reveals a sloping, rocky terrain with a few amphipods seen swimming around the bait. The team has begun processing samples for microbial cultures, amphipod identification, chemistry and genomics/phylogenetics.

The specially designed Rolex experimental watch attached to the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER’s manipulator arm during the Mariana Trench dive returned unharmed and keeping perfect time. In 1960 an experimental Rolex Deep Sea Special watch was attached to the hull of the Trieste and emerged in perfect working order after withstanding the huge pressure exerted at 6.77 miles (10.9 km) below the surface. “The Rolex Deepsea Challenge watch is a tremendous example of engineering know-how and an ideal match for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible,” said Cameron.


·         The DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition will be chronicled for a 3-D feature film for theatrical release on the intensive technological and scientific efforts behind this historic dive, which will subsequently be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel. The expedition also will be documented in National Geographic magazine. Additionally, Cameron will collaborate with National Geographic to create broad-based educational outreach materials.

·         Additional major funding for the 3-D feature film, education and digital outreach has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which supports original research and public understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

·         Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego, is the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE Expedition’s primary science collaborator. For nearly a decade, Scripps has been involved with Cameron in developing new ways to explore and study the deepest parts of the oceans. With its decades-long history of deep-sea exploration, Scripps is recognized as a world leader in investigating the science of the deep ocean, from exploring the deep’s geological features to researching its exotic marine life inhabitants.

·         The expedition also is collaborating with the University of Hawai‘i, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Guam.

·         Permits for research and diving at the Challenger Deep and beyond were secured from authorities in the Federated States of Micronesia, which supported the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition in many ways. Parts of the Mariana Trench are now protected under a 2009 proclamation by President George W. Bush that established the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and gave management responsibility to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued permits for the dive in the U.S. areas of the Monument.