A handful of submersible divers made their way to the bottom, but due to the lack of oxygen and pressure in the deep sea, they were only discovered for short periods of time.
“How long a human can stay in such a confined space without food, water or oxygen is still really limited,” says Dwight Coleman, a deep-sea oceanographer and expedition leader at the University of Rhode Island.
It’s a great big ocean and for many explorers, it’s also the last remaining unknown frontier. Oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, so it should come as no surprise that when it comes to exploration, we’ve just scratched the surface. So far, only about 5 percent of the ocean floor has been seen by human eyes.
However, while we were there, we discovered a world of its own, living miles under humanity.
The deepest parts of the ocean are rather scary places. It is home to a strange group of species that have adapted to life in an unforgiving ecosystem. In comparison, the trench is about 10,000 feet deeper than the height of Mount Everest. Surviving in the depths is no easy feat, but this dark, dusty world still supports an abundance of single-celled organisms resembling amoebae, as well as tiny floating crustaceans. The newly discovered hadal fish, described in a 2017 article in the journal ZooTaxais pink in color, without scaling and at the top of the Mariana Trench chain of restaurants.
A 2019 expedition to the Philippine Trench, with Filipino oceanographer Deo Florence Onda and American explorer Victor Vescovo, explored the Emden DeepIt is known to be the third deepest part of the ocean. Alas, this successful mission to the “guts of the depths” revealed a dirty little surprise: garbage.
“Veskovo was surprised when he saw two black eyes staring at him only to realize that they belonged to a teddy bear,” according to the press. Release marking the event.
But mostly, these trenches are deep pockets of mud, and compared to other parts of the ocean floor, Coleman says, they don’t contain the resources needed to attract many deep-sea explorers.
There was little, though. He was the first to dive into the Mariana Trench Jacques Picard in 1960who used a US Navy submarine to embark on a five-hour voyage to the depth where he stopped for about 20 minutes.
In 2012, famous filmmaker James Cameron ventured into the deepest known part of Mariana Trench Like Challenger Deep, in a self-designed submersible. He spent about three hours taking photos and taking videos to share with the world. But for real exploration, we’re not there yet.
“More is being done to explore parts of the ocean floor where there are underwater volcanoes, hydrothermal vent systems, oil or mineral resources, which are not at these depths,” Coleman says.
Mapping the sea floor
Coleman’s team uses sonar on ships to create high-resolution maps and locate areas for further exploration using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). These ROVs can collect samples from the ocean floor to study in the lab and take pictures and videos of the ocean floor.
But it’s not only the ecosystem that impresses Coleman, he’s also fascinated with exploring what humans leave behind. He’s spent years exploring ancient shipwrecks at the bottom of the Black Sea, the seabed known to be hypoxic, meaning there is no oxygen and no life outside a certain depth. This deep saline layer separates from the layers closer to the surface that receive oxygen from the atmosphere.
“Here we were looking at preserving human history, not animal life,” he says.
And since we’ve only discovered a snapshot of what’s deep in the ocean, Coleman and his team hope to help change that. “The goal is to map the entire ocean floor by 2030,” he says.