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Questions & Answers

06/16/04

 

Q: How deep is the ocean's bottom? How many people have touched the ocean's bottom?

A: The deepest point in any ocean was discovered by the H.M.S. Challenger in the late 1800's. The point is located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan in an area called the Mariana Trench. The deepest point of the Mariana Trench is called the Challenger Deep and it measures in at 36,200 feet deep (that's 6,033 fathoms, 6.85 miles, 11,034 meters, or 11 kilometers) - deep enough to fit Mt. Everest (29,035 ft) in with room at the top!

The deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean, where the Life on the Edge mission takes place, measures in at 28,232 feet (8,605 meters). This point is located in the Puerto Rico Trench.

It is hard to determine just how many people have touched the ocean bottom. Anyone who has walked into the water at the beach has touched the ocean floor. Most scuba divers dive between 60 to 90 feet (18 to 27 m), and many people have been this deep. Divers can go down to 297 feet (90.5 m) with regular oxygen, but most don't need to go this far. Diving below 297 feet (90.5 m) without a pressurized chamber and without a specialized mixture of gases to breathe puts you at risk for nitrogen narcosis which impairs your judgment and could be deadly.

sub going into the waterDuring the Life on the Edge mission, the sub dives are scheduled to go down as far as 2160 feet (658 m) in a chamber that keeps constant pressure. The sub is capable of making dives as deep as 3000 feet (914 m). There are many people (but fewer than scuba divers) that have been down to the bottom of the ocean in submersibles. This select group is typically made up of scientists, military personnel, videographers, and the sub pilots. While in the sub, it is possible to collect samples, and capture pictures and video, but you don't leave the inside of the sub. So, you don't physically touch the ocean bottom.



Q: If the ship you are in were to hit an iceberg, like the Titanic did, is there currently any technology that the Titanic didn't have in its time, that would keep it from sinking?

close-up view of engine room doorA: Unfortunately, no. Our ship would sink just like the Titanic if it were to hit an iceberg or anything like it below the water. One thing that is a bit different and could have an effect on how fast the ship would sink is the water tight seals above the doors. Some reports on the sinking of the Titanic suggest that its watertight doors were shut, but as the water rose to the top of the doors it overflowed into the next compartment (kind of like filling up an ice cube tray). Our ship, the R/V Seward Johnson, has watertight seals all the way around the doorways, so we might be able to block off a leak and confine it to a certain area of the ship. Hopefully, we won't come across any icebergs in the Gulf Stream which is warmer than the surrounding water, but you can be sure there is someone keeping a watchful eye out for any hazards.

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