One Giant Leap

Shannon Switzer is an award-winning photographer, published writer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on ocean conservation.

Right about now, I imagine James Cameron and his DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team are
kicking back with several bottles of bubbly to celebrate their
monumental accomplishment. In this world, whose far-flung corners seem
to shrink closer together every day, it’s increasingly difficult to have
new “firsts” in exploration. So when one is achieved, it’s important to
pause and acknowledge it. Successfully engineering a sub to withstand
16,000 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure and dive solo to the deepest
spot on the ocean floor is one of those special occasions that calls for
celebration. The real success, however, is yet to come.

PreDive_04_MM8108_20120326_23028.jpgFilmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron gets a handshake from ocean explorer and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, right, just before the hatch on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible is closed and the voyage to the deepest part of the ocean begins. Walsh took the same journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 52 years ago in the bathyscaphe Trieste with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. Cameron is the first person to complete the dive solo. 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.

 

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Jacques Cousteau and Ocean Exploration

Shannon Switzer is an award-winning photographer, published
writer, and National Geographic Young Explorer whose work focuses on
ocean conservation.

  • How far down does the ocean go? 
  • Can living things thrive in the deepest parts of the ocean? 
  • If so, what do they look like and how do they survive?

A Brief History of Modern Ocean Exploration

The
questions above have captured people’s imagination for centuries. Some
of them were at least partially answered during legendary ocean
expeditions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One such voyage,
completed by the HMS Challenger during the 1870s, is considered by many
to be the first systematic deep-sea recognizance mission. This
circumnavigation of more than 68,000 nautical miles included the
collection of samples of organisms from oceans around the world, which
proved that the deep sea indeed had its own set of unique flora and
fauna. Prior to this expedition, many people thought that life could not
exist in the deepest parts of the ocean.

19561.jpgAt left: The bathyscaphe Trieste is hoisted out of the water. In 1960, Trieste descended to the Challenger Deep, more than 10,915m (35,810 ft) below the ocean’s surface. As of 2010, it remained the only manned vehicle to ever dive that deep. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy Electronics Laboratory, San Diego.

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