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Oceanography And Marine Science

Exploring the Mariana Trench: Has Anyone Been to the Bottom?

The Mariana Trench, located in the western Pacific Ocean, is the deepest part of the world’s oceans, with a maximum depth of approximately 36,070 feet. The trench is home to a wide variety of unique and fascinating creatures, many of which have never been seen before. However, the question remains: has anyone been to the bottom of the Mariana Trench?

Mariana trench illustration

The answer is yes. In 1960, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh became the first people to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the bathyscaphe Trieste. The descent took approximately five hours, and they spent only 20 minutes at the bottom before beginning their ascent. Since then, only a handful of other people have made the journey to the bottom of the trench, including filmmaker James Cameron in 2012. Despite these expeditions, much of the Mariana Trench remains unexplored, and there is still much to be learned about this mysterious and fascinating part of the world.

Exploring the Mariana Trench

History of Exploration

The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the world’s oceans, and it has long been a subject of fascination for explorers and scientists alike. The first attempt to explore the trench was made by the HMS Challenger in 1875. The expedition discovered the deepest known part of the trench, which was named the Challenger Deep in honor of the ship. However, it wasn’t until 1960 that humans were able to reach the bottom of the trench.

Challenger Deep

In 1960, Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard became the first humans to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench. They descended in the , which was designed by Piccard’s father, Auguste Piccard. The descent took almost five hours, and the two men spent only 20 minutes on the ocean floor before returning to the surface. The Trieste was retired after the dive, and no one returned to the bottom of the trench until 2012.

 

Recent Expeditions

In 2012, filmmaker James Cameron made a solo dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Deepsea Challenger submersible. Cameron spent several hours on the ocean floor, collecting samples and filming the experience for a documentary. The Deepsea Challenger was designed to withstand the extreme pressure of the deep ocean, and it was the first submersible to return to the Challenger Deep since the Trieste.

Deepsea Challenger - James Cameron's Submersible
Deepsea Challenger – James Cameron’s Submersible

In 2019, Victor Vescovo piloted the DSV Limiting Factor to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The Limiting Factor is the only submersible capable of reaching the deepest parts of the ocean multiple times. Vescovo made several dives to the Challenger Deep, collecting biological samples and mapping the ocean floor.

The Five Deeps Expedition, led by Vescovo, was the first to visit each of the world’s five oceans’ deepest points, including the Challenger Deep. The expedition used the Limiting Factor submersible to explore the depths of the ocean and collect samples for scientific research.

Despite the advances in technology and the number of expeditions to the Mariana Trench, there is still much to be learned about this remote and mysterious part of the ocean.

Geography and Geology of the Mariana Trench

Mariana trenchLocation and Size

The Mariana Trench is located in the Western Pacific Ocean, east of the Mariana Islands and south of Japan. It is the deepest part of the world’s oceans and the lowest point on Earth’s crust. The trench is about 2,550 kilometers (1,580 miles) long and 69 kilometers (43 miles) wide on average. The deepest point of the trench, known as the Challenger Deep, is approximately 11 kilometers (7 miles) deep.

Formation and Features

The Mariana Trench was formed as a result of the collision between two tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Plate. The Pacific Plate is moving westward and is being subducted, or forced underneath, the Philippine Plate. As the Pacific Plate descends into the mantle, it melts and creates magma that rises to the surface, forming volcanic islands.

The trench is characterized by steep slopes and narrow ridges that run parallel to the trench axis. It is also home to a variety of unique geological features, including seamounts, hydrothermal vents, and abyssal hills.

Subduction Zone

The Mariana Trench is located in a subduction zone, where one tectonic plate is being forced underneath another. This process creates a deep oceanic trench, such as the Mariana Trench, and can also cause earthquakes and volcanic activity. The subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the Philippine Plate has created a zone of intense seismic activity in the region.

In addition to earthquakes and volcanic activity, the subduction of the Pacific Plate also causes the release of water and other fluids from the descending plate. This process is important for the formation of magma and the recycling of elements through the Earth’s crust.

Overall, the Mariana Trench is a unique and fascinating geological feature that provides insight into the processes that shape our planet.

Life in the Mariana Trench

The Mariana Trench is one of the most extreme environments on Earth, with pressures over 1,000 times greater than at sea level. Despite this, life thrives in the depths of the trench, with a diverse array of creatures adapted to the harsh conditions.

Marine Life

The Mariana Trench is home to a variety of unique and fascinating creatures. In a remarkable discovery, scientists have recorded the deepest fish ever found, breaking a new record. What makes this discovery even more surprising is that the species in question, a snailfish, is not typically known to inhabit such depths. While most snailfish live in shallow waters, researchers from the University of Western Australia and the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology managed to capture this fish at a staggering depth of 27,349 feet in August 2022. The team has been studying the world’s deepest fish for a decade, and this latest finding adds to their impressive body of work.

This is the Deepest Fish Ever Recorded in the OceanThis is the Deepest Fish Ever Recorded in the Ocean

New Species

The extreme conditions of the Mariana Trench have led to the discovery of many new species of marine life. In recent years, scientists have identified several new species of snailfish, as well as a new species of amphipod that is capable of breaking down wood. These discoveries highlight the importance of continued exploration and research in the deep sea.

Pollution

Unfortunately, even the depths of the Mariana Trench are not immune to the impacts of human activity. Plastic trash and microplastics have been found in the trench, with some studies estimating that up to 90% of the world’s plastic waste ends up in the ocean. In addition to plastic, metals and other pollutants can also find their way into the trench via rivers and other sources.

Overall, the Mariana Trench is a fascinating and unique ecosystem that provides valuable insights into the workings of the deep sea. However, it is also a fragile environment that is vulnerable to human impact. Continued research and conservation efforts are necessary to ensure that this incredible ecosystem remains intact for future generations to explore and appreciate.

The Challenges of Exploring the Mariana Trench

Extreme Pressure

The Mariana Trench is the deepest point on the planet, with a depth of approximately 36,070 feet (10,994 meters). The water pressure at the bottom of the trench is immense, with a force of over 15,750 pounds per square inch. This extreme pressure poses a significant challenge to any exploration mission. The pressure can crush most submarines and equipment, making it difficult for humans to explore the trench.

The recent OceanGate Titan tragedy occurred at roughly 6,000 meters, which is not as deep as the Mariana trench. Althought at the time of this writing the cause of the accident the Titan experienced is still unknown, it is widely believed that the vessel was not able to withstand the immense and crushing pressure of the ocean at that depth due to poor engineering and materials choices.

Equipment and Technology

Exploring the Mariana Trench requires specialized equipment and technology. Submersibles, which are small submarines, are the most commonly used vehicles to explore the trench. These submersibles are designed to withstand the immense pressure of the water at the bottom of the trench. The submersibles are typically equipped with cameras and lights to capture images and videos of the trench.

One of the most significant challenges of exploring the Mariana Trench is the lack of light. The trench is pitch black, and there is no natural light source. To overcome this challenge, submersibles are equipped with powerful lights to illuminate the area around them.

Conclusion

Exploring the Mariana Trench is a challenging task that requires specialized equipment and technology. The extreme pressure, lack of light, and inhospitable environment make it a difficult environment to explore. Despite these challenges, researchers continue to explore the trench, uncovering new insights into the planet’s geology and the impact of human activity on the environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How deep is the Mariana Trench?

The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean and is located in the western Pacific Ocean. The maximum depth of the Mariana Trench is approximately 36,070 feet (10,994 meters) below sea level.

What is the Challenger Deep?

The Challenger Deep is the deepest point in the Mariana Trench and is located approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of Guam. The depth of the Challenger Deep is approximately 36,070 feet (10,994 meters) below sea level.

How many people have reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench?

Only three people have ever reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The first person to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench was Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh in 1960. The second person was James Cameron in 2012.

Can humans survive at the bottom of the Mariana Trench?

No, humans cannot survive at the bottom of the Mariana Trench (unless they are safely inside an adequate pressure vessel or submersible). The pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench is approximately 8 tons per square inch, which is more than 1,000 times the atmospheric pressure at sea level. Additionally, the temperature at the bottom of the Mariana Trench is just above freezing.

Without a specially designed submarine or atmospheric diving suit, a human would not be able to survive an attempt to swim down to the Mariana Trench. The intense pressure, cold temperatures, lack of oxygen, and darkness would all be fatal. These conditions make the deep ocean more hostile to humans than space.

What are some Mariana Trench facts?

The Mariana Trench is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is an area of high volcanic and seismic activity. The Mariana Trench is also home to a variety of unique and interesting species, including the Mariana snailfish and the Challenger Deep shrimp.

Who was the first person to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench?

The first person to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench was Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh in 1960. They descended to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the bathyscaphe Trieste.

Hayley Gordon

Hayley Gordon has been surfing for over 20 years. Riding both shortboards and longboards, she's traveled the world to surf but mainly sticks to her two home locations of San Diego and Long Island.

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