USA: Scripps Supports James Cameron’s Expedition

For nearly a decade, Scripps has been involved with James 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, researching its exotic marine life inhabitants, to development of the requisite sensor and sampling technologies.

In collaboration with Cameron’s project, Scripps scientists will obtain seawater, sediment cores and deep-sea animals, in many cases recovered from deep-sea landers. These samples will enable the characterization of new life forms. In addition, Scripps microbiologists will investigate the DNA of the samples to help understand how life evolves and adapts in the punishing extremes of the deep, as well as ascertain whether such microbes could be sources of novel natural products with potential biomedical value.

A Scripps Mariana Trench expedition last year organized in conjunction with National Geographic and funded largely by NASA revealed the deepest known existence of xenophyophores, mysterious single-celled animals found exclusively in deep sea environments.

In the general area of deep-sea research, Scripps has benefitted greatly from gifts from the Prince Albert II Foundation, and from discussions with the 5 Dives expedition of Sir Richard Branson and Chris Welsh.

Ocean Research and Exploration at Scripps

A century ago, the deep sea was imagined as a mysterious, barren, and lifeless abyss. Dark and cold, with extreme high pressure, the ocean deep was envisioned as void of any sort of life forms. During the last half-century, ocean exploration and new technologies have upended those mistaken assumptions. Scientific investigations, many led by marine researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, have changed our understanding of the deep sea from an environment of quiet desolation to one of vibrant biodiversity featuring a dynamic mix of exotic marine life.

Today’s Scripps scientists continue to lead the advancement of technologies to reach, view, and examine the deepest parts of our water planet. Using sophisticated unmanned tools, Scripps scientists probe the deep and often come away with surprising results – results that are transformational in helping us understand the planet like it’s never been understood before. Even so, questions remain. What else might be found, and how will it benefit humankind?

The Ultimate Challenge

In 1960, two intrepid explorers faced the ultimate challenge and dipped into the vast, dark sea and set a record for the deepest descent below the ocean’s surface. In their vessel, a 150-ton steel submersible named Trieste, the two adventurers made a vertical voyage to the seabed of the Mariana Trench, deep in the Pacific Ocean. Landing on the ocean floor, they ultimately reached a record-setting depth of 35,800 feet – nearly seven miles below the surface. Since this historic achievement five decades ago, no other humans have ventured to such extreme depths—until now.

Threats to the Deep

Deep ocean conditions are extremely harsh and remote, but they aren’t isolated from human impact. Threats against Earth’s largest ecosystem are accelerating and scientists underscore the urgency of protecting this largely unexplored environment. Today’s threats from human encroachment on the deep sea include impacts caused by climate change, destructive bottom trawling, and overfishing in areas once believed too deep to be affected. There is also mounting evidence that garbage, including plastic debris, pollutes even the deep ocean. This grim scenario calls for urgent action across disciplines to further study these mysterious environments and to support conservation measures to protect the elusive deep ocean and its habitats.

Scripps Looks Deep into the Future

With a host of expert marine biologists, sea-floor scientists, geologists, and engineers; one of the world’s largest academic research fleets for global exploration; and a long record of scientific achievement, Scripps is well positioned and highly qualified to advance international research and exploration promoting stewardship of deep-ocean biodiversity and resources. Scripps’ deep ocean efforts are truly global, both in the nature of the research conducted, as well as through collaborations that reach across borders to partner governments, institutions, and organizations worldwide. This international and multidisciplinary approach not only promotes innovation within deep-ocean science, it also helps inspire solutions to some of the most interesting and intractable environmental challenges facing our world such as climate change, pollution, and the quest for new drugs from the sea.

Subsea World News Staff , March 09, 2012;  Image: Scripps