National Geographic has announced that “explorer-in-residence and filmmaker” James Cameron will attempt to reach the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest point that lies 11.2 km beneath the ocean’s surface.
Called the Deepsea Challenge, this will be a joint scientific project by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex and is designed to conduct “deep-ocean research and exploration to expand our knowledge and understanding of these largely unknown parts of the planet”.
Cameron will reach the floor of the ocean in a specially designed submersible and will be the first extensive scientific exploration by a manned vehicle to the Mariana Trench’s lowest point, the ‘Challenger Deep’. Cameron plans to spend six hours at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean trench, around 322 km southwest of Guam, to collect samples for research in marine biology, microbiology, astrobiology, marine geology and geophysics.
“The deep trenches are the last unexplored frontier on our planet, with scientific riches enough to fill a hundred years of exploration,” Cameron said. “National Geographic, which has been exploring the world for nearly 125 years, is the ideal partner to help usher in a new era of deep-ocean research and exploration that supports leading scientific institutions in answering questions about the deepest, unexplored parts of the Earth. Our goal is to build a scientific legacy for generations to come. It’s also to inspire people across the globe to celebrate exploration and to explore with us online and through the media we produce.”
The Deepsea Challenge expedition will be chronicled for a 3-D feature film on the intensive technological and scientific efforts behind this historic dive. The event will be documented for the National Geographic Channel and National Geographic magazine. Cameron also will collaborate with National Geographic to create broad-based educational outreach materials.
FOX Africa director, Thandi Davids, said the Deepsea Challenge expedition, and Cameron’s filmmaking, has led to an “an exciting opportunity for both National Geographic and our great explorer, James Cameron, that will lead to unprecedented scientific breakthroughs. The more we learn about our planet – the better our understanding and preservation efforts, championed by our National Geographic Society.”
For Rolex, it’s a chance to revisit the Challenger Deep. In 1960, on Jan. 23, US Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, spent approximately 20 minutes on the ocean floor before returning to the surface in the bathyscaphe Trieste. An experimental Rolex Deepsea Special watch was attached to the hull of the Trieste and emerged in perfect working order after withstanding the huge pressure exerted at nearly 11 km below the surface. Now the Deepsea Challenger submersible will carry a new experimental wristwatch, the Rolex Deepsea Challenge, strapped to its manipulator arm, renewing the pioneering engineering challenge the Swiss watchmaker took up 52 years ago with the Trieste.
Successful field tests were completed this week off the coast of Papua New Guinea. They included untethered deep-water dives — including one to a depth of more than 8 km — in the revolutionary, single-pilot Deepsea Challenger submersible, the result of an eight-year engineering effort and the deepest-diving manned marine vehicle in existence.
Cameron was named a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence in 2011. While working on his film “Titanic,” he took 12 submersible dives to the famed shipwreck two and a half miles down in the North Atlantic. The technical success of that expedition led Cameron to form Earthship Productions, which develops films about ocean exploration and conservation. Since then he has led six expeditions, authored a forensic study of the Bismarck wreck site and done extensive 3-D imaging of deep hydrothermal vent sites along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the East Pacific Rise and the Sea of Cortez. Cameron has made 72 deep submersible dives, including 33 to Titanic. Fifty-one of these dives were in Russian Mir submersibles to depths of up to 4.87 km.
The public will be able to follow Cameron’s progress on the expedition at www.DEEPSEACHALLENGE.com; on Twitter by following @DeepChallenge or using #deepseachallenge; or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deepseachallenge.
PHOTOGRAPHS: courtesy of National Geographic