Three researchers onboard a Chinese deepsea submersible vehicle have ventured into the deepest ocean trench on the planet while live-streaming their adventure back to the surface.
Named "Fendouzhe", or "Striver", the deep-sea submarine descended over 10,909 meters (about 35,790 feet) into the waters of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean on Tuesday 10 November, according to the Chinese Academy of Science. This depth is less than 20 meters (65 feet) short of the previous record achieved just last year.
Just a small handful of people have previously braved similarly deep distances into the Mariana Trench, a crescent-shaped trench that’s so deep it could hide Mount Everest in it with more than 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) to spare. The first crewed visit to the trench was in 1960, after which there had been no missions until James Cameron, the Canadian filmmaker who directed Titanic and Avatar, achieved the first solo trip in 2012. It has since been visited by a small number of other explorers, most notably Texas businessman Victor Vescovo, who set the record for the deepest crewed sea dive in 2019 after reaching 10,927 meters (35,853 feet) into the southern end of the Mariana Trench.
However, this new project is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, the exploration was live-streamed by a deep-sea camera. The mission is also of note, it has been solely developed by China, marking another feat in the country's rise to become a scientific superpower.
The submersible is electrically powered and can "swim around" for up to 10 hours underwater. It's equipped with robotic arms to pick up biological samples and sonar to navigate the pitch-black waters. Perhaps most impressive of all, the vehicle has to withstand the immense pressure that’s exerted beneath some 10,000 meters (32,800 feet) of water. It’s estimated that water pressure at the bottom of the trench is over 703 kilograms per square meter (8 tons per square inch), around a thousand times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level.
Despite this incredibly high pressure, the Mariana Trench does harbor life, including a variety of fish and crustaceans.The Chinese researchers aboard Fendouzhe hope to use their submersible vehicles to observe his marine life and collect samples from the deepest part of the ocean for geological and marine biological research.
It's been described as an otherworldly and alien-like environment, but unfortunately, the Mariana Trench is not immune to the human-driven environmental changes that are occurring across the planet. For example, scientists have documented the presence of microplastics and large plastic trash in the Mariana Trench. Previous studies have found that plastic can now be found in the stomachs of sea creatures in all six of the ocean's known deepest areas.