He Did It!…Now We Want to Know What He Saw

Lori Roberts is a high school biology teacher in Muscle
Shoals, Alabama. Lori is a leader in ocean education and is a graduate
of National Geographic Education’s two-year professional development
program, the National Teacher Leadership Academy.

James Cameron has completed a near-impossible feat: He dove deep into the hadal depths of the Mariana Trench, almost 36,000′, and survived to tell of his experience. As a citizen of the world, I am blown away by this daring adventure into the unknown. Cameron is the expedition leader, pilot, and co-designer of the submersible DEEPSEA CHALLENGER. He has seen sights that no human has seen before. What was waiting for him in the depths of the Mariana Trench? This successful expedition has made us all hungry for more.

Cameron_SubRolex_02_MM8108_20120326_23579.jpgFilmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron emerges from the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible after his successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic.

I am a biology teacher, so I want to know what types of life exist
there. What did he see?

Was it just marine snow? Maybe he saw thermal
and collected samples. Did he collect archaebacteria? We know that
there is no sunlight and that there are extreme forces of pressure.
Check out the deep-sea animals photographed by Oceanlab at the
University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and seen on the National
Geographic website. These fishes and crustaceans were found swimming at
4.3 miles deep in the Peru-Chile Trench. On another recent expedition,
supergiant amphipods were collected from the Kermadec Trench off the
northern coast of New Zealand.

28362.jpgFood webs at hydrothermal vents are based on chemosynthesis rather than
photosynthesis. No light is available to support photosynthesis by
marine algae or plants, so primary productivity occurs when
bacteria-like organisms (archaea) turn chemical energy from vents into
usable energy. Illustration by Doris Dialogu. Available on NatGeoEd.org.

I have heard that that the bones of fishes would dissolve due to the
great pressure (about 16,000 pounds-per-square-inch) at the bottom of
the Marianas, as James Cameron himself mentions in this video. Fishes
have been observed at depths of 3,000 to 6,000 meters. To get a better
sense of this, read the abstract of a study published by the Royal
Society of Biological Sciences, Liparid and macrourid fishes of the
hadal zone: in situ observations of activity and feeding behavior
. It is
technical stuff, but it helps one understand the hadal zone. According
to the research article, “Life in the trenches is dependent on two
distinct pathways of energy supply: particulate detritus from overlying
productivity, and carrion falls.” Nutrients from carrion or dead sea
life are considered enough to feed masses of bottom scavengers. Can bony
fishes survive at almost 11,000 meters (about 36,000′), the depth of
Challenger Deep?

My biology students have a romantic view of the deep trenches; they are
hoping that we discover glowing bioluminescent creatures down there. I
know that I loved Cameron’s view of the trenches in the film The Abyss.
We know that light cannot penetrate that deep, so how do organisms sense
each other? My mind conjures up myriad possibilities. I certainly am
hoping for more than what Don Walsh saw as co-pilot of the Trieste
(mostly silt, stirred up from the ocean floor).

Cameron_NatGeoFlag_04_MM8108_20120326_23793.jpgFilmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron holds the National Geographic Society flag after he successfully completed the first ever solo dive to the Mariana Trench. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic.

Lori Roberts

Critical Links
1. deepseachallenge.com (Main National Geographic site for the expedition)
2. NatGeoEd.org/deepsea-challenge (National Geographic Education site for the expedition. Find activities, maps, multimedia, reference content, and more.)
3. Expedition Journal
(The official blog from the deck of Mermaid Sapphire, James Cameron’s
mother ship. Our Education bloggers are using this blog, as well as the
main deepseachallenge.com website, to inform their writing about the

Leave a Reply