Returning humans to the hadal zone

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Returning humans to the hadal zone

Postby neufer » Sun Mar 25, 2012 10:27 pm

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news ... ience-sub/ wrote:
James Cameron Now at Ocean's Deepest Point
Explorer-filmmaker reaches Mariana Trench bottom on deepest ever solo sub dive.
Ker Than, for National Geographic News, March 25, 2012

<<As of 5:52 p.m. ET (7:52 a.m. on Monday, local time), James Cameron has arrived at the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep, members of the National Geographic expedition have confirmed. His depth on arrival: 35,756 feet (10,898 meters)—a figure unattainable anywhere else in the ocean. Reaching bottom, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker typed out welcome words for the cheering support crew waiting at the surface: "All systems OK."

Folded into a sub cockpit as cramped as any Apollo capsule, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker is now investigating a seascape more alien to humans than the moon. Cameron is only the third person to reach this Pacific Ocean valley southwest of Guam—and the only one to do so solo. Hovering in what he's called a vertical torpedo, Cameron is likely collecting data, specimens, and imagery unthinkable in 1960, when the only other explorers to reach Challenger Deep returned after seeing little more than the silt stirred up by their bathyscaphe. After as long as six hours in the trench, Cameron—best known for creating fictional worlds on film (Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss)—is to jettison steel weights attached to the sub and shoot back to the surface.

Meanwhile, the expedition's scientific support team awaits his return aboard the research ships Mermaid Sapphire and Barakuda, 7 miles (11 kilometers) up. "We're now a band of brothers and sisters that have been through this for a while," marine biologist Doug Bartlett told National Geographic News from the ship before the dive. "People have worked for months or years in a very intensive way to get to this point," said Bartlett, chief scientist for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE program, a partnership with the National Geographic Society and Rolex. "I think people are ready," added Bartlett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. "They want to get there, and they want to see this happen."

Upon touchdown at Challenger Deep, Cameron's first target is a phone booth-like unmanned "lander" dropped into the trench hours before his dive. Using sonar, "I'm going to attempt to rendezvous with that vehicle so I can observe animals that are attracted to the chemical signature of its bait," Cameron told National Geographic News before the dive. He'll later follow a route designed to take him through as many environments as possible, surveying not only the sediment-covered seafloor but also cliffs of interest to expedition geologists. "I'll be doing a bit of a longitudinal transect along the trench axis for a while, and then I'll turn 90 degrees and I'll go north and work myself up the wall," said Cameron, also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. Though battery power and vast distances limit his contact with his science team to text messaging and sporadic voice communication, Cameron seemed confident in his mission Friday. "I'm pretty well briefed on what I'll see," he said.

To get to this point, Cameron and his crew have spent seven years reimagining what a submersible can be. The result is the 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) DEEPSEA CHALLENGER. Engineered to sink upright and spinning, like a bullet fired straight into the Mariana Trench, the sub can descend about 500 feet (150 meters) a minute—"amazingly fast," in the words of Robert Stern, a marine geologist at the University of Texas at Dallas. Pre-expedition estimates put the Challenger Deep descent at about 90 minutes. By contrast, some current remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, descend at about 40 meters (130 feet) a minute, added Stern, who isn't part of the expedition.

Andy Bowen, project manager and principal developer of the Nereus, an ROV that explored Challenger Deep in 2009, called the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER "an extremely elegant solution to the challenge of diving a human-occupied submersible to such extreme depths." "It's been engineered to be very effective at getting from the surface to the seafloor in as quick a time as possible," said Bowen, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who also isn't part of the current expedition. And that's just the idea, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team says: The faster Cameron gets there, the more time for science.

Pursuing speed and science in tandem makes the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER test dives—and even the Mariana Trench mission—perhaps as unorthodox as the sub itself. Typically "you conduct a sea trial for a vehicle, you pronounce it fit for service, and then you develop a science program around it," Cameron said before heading to the trench. "We collapsed that together into one expedition, because [we were] fairly confident the vehicle would work—and it is."

Now, at the bottom of the trench, the sub's custom-designed foam filling and the pressure-resistant shape of the "pilot sphere"—are helping protect Cameron from the equivalent of 8 tons pressing down on every square inch.

Among the sub's tools are a sediment sampler, a robotic claw, a "slurp gun" for sucking up small sea creatures for study at the surface, and temperature, salinity, and pressure gauges. While that might sound like a gearhead's paradise, Cameron knows he'll "have to be able to prioritize." "Is my manipulator working properly? Do I still have room in my sample drawer? And do I still have the ability to take a [sediment] core sample? ... I only have [tools for] three sediment cores available on the vehicle, so I have to choose wisely when to use them."

By contrast, the sub's multiple 3-D cameras will be whirring almost continually, and not just for the benefit of future audiences of planned documentaries. "There is scientific value in getting stereo images," Cameron said, "because ... you can determine the scale and distance of objects from stereo pairs that you can't from 2-D images."

But, Scripps's Bartlett said, "it's not just the video." The sub's lighting of deepwater scenes—mainly by an 8-foot (2.5-meter) tower of LEDs—is "so, so beautiful. It's unlike anything that you'll have seen from other subs or other remotely operated vehicles."

Right now it's a mystery what Cameron is seeing, sampling, and filming at depth, in part because so little is known about the Challenger Deep environment. The only glimpses scientists have had of the region, via two ROV missions, showed a seafloor covered in light gray, silky mud. Cameron may be detecting subtle signs of life—burrows or tracks or fecal piles—said DEEPSEA CHALLENGE biological oceanographer Lisa Levin, also of Scripps, who's monitoring the expedition from afar. If the water's clear, she added, Cameron may be seeing jellyfish or xenophyophores—giant, single-celled, honeycomb-shaped creatures already filmed in other areas of the Mariana Trench. "If we get lucky," Cameron said before the dive, "we should find something like a cold seep, where we might find tube worms." Cold seeps are regions of the ocean floor somewhat like hydrothermal vents that ooze fluid chemicals at the same temperature as the surrounding water.

Earlier this month, during a test dive near Papua New Guinea, Cameron brought back enormous shrimplike creatures from five miles (eight kilometers) down. At 7 inches (17 centimeters) long, the animals are "the largest amphipods ever seen at that kind of depth," chief scientist Bartlett said. "And we saw one on camera that was perhaps twice that size." At Challenger Deep depths, though, the calcium animals need to form shells dissolves quickly. It's unlikely—though not impossible—that Cameron is finding shelled creatures, but if he does, the discovery would be a scientific jaw-dropper. Even if he uncovers "a rock with a shell limpet or some kind of bivalve in the mud"—such as a clam, perhaps—"that would be exciting," Scripps's Levin said.

Expedition astrobiologist Kevin Hand, of NASA, imagines that the life-forms Cameron might be encountering could help fine-tune the search for extraterrestrial life. For instance, scientists think Jupiter's moon Europa could harbor a global ocean beneath its thick shell of ice—an ocean that, like Challenger Deep, would be lightless, near freezing, and home to areas of intense pressure. By studying the wavelengths of light, or spectra, reflected off life-forms and sediments brought up by Cameron, Hand should get a better idea of which minerals are needed for life in such an environment. This, in turn, might help him design a space probe better able to detect signs of life on Europa.

"There's an old adage in geology that the best geologist is the one that's seen the most rocks," said Hand, a National Geographic emerging explorer. "I think astrobiology could have a similar adage, in that our best capability for finding life elsewhere—and knowing it when we see it—will come from having a comprehensive understanding of all the various extremes of life on Earth."

And for UT Dallas's Stern, DEEPSEA CHALLENGER's rock-sampling capability offers the opportunity to better understand our planet's inner workings. "Challenger Deep is the deepest cut into the solid Earth," Stern said, "and this gives us a chance to see deeper into the Earth than anywhere else." Once the trench-dive data, specimens, and imagery have been analyzed, National Geographic magazine plans to reveal the full results in a special issue on next-generation exploration in January 2013.

By returning humans to the so-called hadal zone—the ocean's deepest level, below 20,000 feet (6,000 meters)—the Challenger Deep expedition may represent a renaissance in deep-sea exploration. While ROVs are much less expensive than manned subs, "the critical thing is to be able to take the human mind down into that environment," expedition member Patricia Fryer said, "to be able to turn your head and look around to see what the relationships are between organisms in a community and to see how they're behaving—to turn off all the lights and just sit there and watch and not frighten the animals, so that they behave normally. "That is almost impossible to do with an ROV," said Fryer, a marine geologist at the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics & Planetology. In fact, Cameron is so confident in his star vehicle that he started mulling sequels even before the trench dive. Phase two might include adding a thin fiber-optic tether to the ship, which "would allow science observers at the surface to see the images in real time," he said. "And phase three might be taking this vehicle and creating a second-generation vehicle."

DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, then, may be anything but a one-hit wonder. To Bartlett, the Mariana Trench expedition could "represent a turning point in how we approach ocean science. "I absolutely think that what you're seeing is the start of a program, not just one grand expedition.">>
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Re: Returning humans to the hadal zone

Postby geckzilla » Mon Mar 26, 2012 1:47 pm

Kinda confused by one thing... why James Cameron? Is the main goal of the project to create a cinematic journey?
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Re: Returning humans to the hadal zone

Postby neufer » Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:01 pm

geckzilla wrote:
Kinda confused by one thing... why James Cameron?

Because he can afford it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Br ... d_attempts wrote:
<<Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson (born 18 July 1950) is an English business magnate, best known for his Virgin Group of more than 400 companies. Branson is the 4th richest citizen of the United Kingdom, according to the Forbes 2011 list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of US $4.2 billion.

Richard Branson made several world record-breaking attempts after 1985, when in the spirit of the Blue Riband he attempted the fastest Atlantic Ocean crossing. His first attempt in the "Virgin Atlantic Challenger" led to the boat capsizing in British waters and a rescue by RAF helicopter, which received wide media coverage. Some newspapers called for Branson to reimburse the government for the rescue cost. In 1986, in his "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II", with sailing expert Daniel McCarthy, he beat the record by two hours. A year later his hot air balloon "Virgin Atlantic Flyer" crossed the Atlantic.

In January 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific from Japan to Arctic Canada, 6,700 miles (10,800 km), in a balloon. This broke the record, with a speed of 245 miles per hour (394 km/h).

Between 1995 and 1998 Branson, Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett made attempts to circumnavigate the globe by balloon. In late 1998 they made a record-breaking flight from Morocco to Hawaii but were unable to complete a global flight before Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in Breitling Orbiter 3 in March 1999.

In March 2004, Branson set a record by travelling from Dover to Calais in a Gibbs Aquada in 1 hour, 40 minutes and 6 seconds, the fastest crossing of the English Channel in an amphibious vehicle. The previous record of six hours was set by two Frenchmen. The cast of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, attempted to break this record in an amphibious vehicle which they had constructed and, while successfully crossing the channel, did not break Branson's record.

In September 2008 Branson and his children made an unsuccessful attempt at an Eastbound record crossing of the Atlantic ocean under sail in the 30 m sloop Virgin Money. After 2 days, 4 hours, winds of force 7 to 9 (strong gale), and seas of 12 m, a 'monster wave' destroyed the spinnaker, washed a ten-man life raft overboard and severely ripped the mainsail. She eventually continued to St. George's, Bermuda.

In March 2010 Richard tried for the world record of putting a round of golf in the dark at the Black Light Mini Golf in The Docklands, Melbourne, Australia. He succeeded in getting 41 on the par 45 course.>>
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Re: Returning humans to the hadal zone

Postby rstevenson » Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:42 pm

geckzilla wrote:Kinda confused by one thing... why James Cameron? Is the main goal of the project to create a cinematic journey?

You might want to have a look at Cameron's Wiki page instead of Branson's. James Cameron is a well-regarded undersea explorer who did his first undersea film work more than 30 years ago. He has 72 deep-sea dives to his credit. Yes, much of his undersea work is with a goal of filming -- either documentary or cinematic -- but that doesn't make it any less valuable.

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Re: Returning humans to the hadal zone

Postby neufer » Mon Mar 26, 2012 4:32 pm

rstevenson wrote:
geckzilla wrote:
Kinda confused by one thing... why James Cameron? Is the main goal of the project to create a cinematic journey?

You might want to have a look at Cameron's Wiki page instead of Branson's. James Cameron is a well-regarded undersea explorer who did his first undersea film work more than 30 years ago. He has 72 deep-sea dives to his credit. Yes, much of his undersea work is with a goal of filming -- either documentary or cinematic -- but that doesn't make it any less valuable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cameron#Reputation wrote:
<<James Francis Cameron (born August 16, 1954) has been labeled by one collaborator, author Orson Scott Card, as selfish and cruel. When asked about working with Cameron on the novelization of The Abyss, Card said the experience was "hell on wheels. He was very nice to me, because I could afford to walk away. But he made everyone around him miserable, and his unkindness did nothing to improve the film in any way. Nor did it motivate people to work faster or better. And unless he changes his way of working with people, I hope he never directs anything of mine. In fact, now that this is in print, I can fairly guarantee that he will never direct anything of mine. Life is too short to collaborate with selfish, cruel people."

After working with Cameron on Titanic, Kate Winslet decided she would not work with Cameron again unless she earned "a lot of money." She said that Cameron was a nice man, but she found his temper difficult to deal with. In an editorial, the British newspaper The Independent said that Cameron "is a nightmare to work with. Studios have come to fear his habit of straying way over schedule and over budget. He is notorious on set for his uncompromising and dictatorial manner, as well as his flaming temper." Composer James Horner refused to work with Cameron for ten years following their strained working relationship on 1986's Aliens, but they would eventually settle their differences, and Horner would go on to score both Titanic and Avatar for Cameron.

Sam Worthington, the latest lead actor to work with Cameron, stated on the Jay Leno Show that Cameron had very high expectations from everyone, and would often use a nail gun to nail the film crew's cell phones to a wall above an exit door in retaliation for unwanted ringing during production. Other actors, such as Bill Paxton and Sigourney Weaver, have praised Cameron's perfectionism. Weaver said of Cameron: "He really does want us to risk our lives and limbs for the shot, but he doesn't mind risking his own.">>
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