A year-long global expedition to chart the depths of each of the world’s five oceans set a record for the deepest manned sea dive, reaching the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench.
As part of the Five Deeps Expedition, Texas businessman turned ocean explorer Victor Vescovo dove 10,927 meters (35,853 feet) to the bottom of Challenger deep at the southern end of the Mariana Trench. The last time Challenger Deep had a human visitor was in 2012, when Titanic filmmaker James Cameron set the previous record of 10,908 meters aboard his submersible, Deepsea Challenger.
“It is almost indescribable how excited all of us are about achieving what we just did,” said Vescovo in a statement emailed to IFLScience. “This submarine and its mother ship, along with its extraordinarily talented expedition team, took marine technology to an unprecedented new level by diving – rapidly and repeatedly – into the deepest, harshest area of the ocean. We feel like we have just created, validated, and opened a powerful door to discover and visit any place, any time, in the ocean – which is 90% unexplored.”
Technology has changed quite a bit since the Challenger Deep was first explored in 1960 by oceanographers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in the submersible Triest. Vescovo’s sub, DSV Limiting Factor, utilizes new technology capable of multiple dives due to its a 90-millimeter-thick titanium pressure hull built to withstand the pressure of the deep. It can carry two passengers to depths of 11,000 meters (36,000 feet) for more than 16 hours. A total of four dives in eight days made it the first submersible to ever visit the bottom of the Challenger Deep more than once, capturing videos and conducting efficiency tests in the process. Each dive takes a total of around 12 hours – about 3.5 hours to descend, 4 hours exploring, and another 3.5 hours to ascend back to the surface.
In addition to discovering at least three new species of marine animals during the dive series, including a shrimp-like crustacean known as an amphipod, the team also discovered what appears to be a plastic bag and candy wrappers at the bottom of the ocean.
Regarding the new species, “Expedition, scientists are still analyzing and confirming the species details so it’s too early to say,” a spokesperson for The Five Deeps Expedition told IFLScience. “As for the plastic, the team found a man-made object at the bottom of the Mariana Trench that resembles a bag, but it is difficult to confirm it.”
Before now, the Five Deeps Expedition surveyed the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic Ocean, and the South Sandwich and Java Trenches in the Indian Ocean. Its next stop will be the Horizon Deep in the South Pacific Ocean’s Tonga Trench, which measures at just under 11,000 meters deep to stack in as the second-deepest ocean trench in the world. The fifth and final deep dive will be in late August when researchers visit the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean,