Monday, March 26, 2012

James Cameron Kicks Off a New Era in Ocean Exploration

"This is the culmination of a lifelong drive, having first heard about it in the 1960s" - Jim Cameron

As of Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 5:52 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, James Cameron has gone to the deepest place in the world and has returned. And he will go back again a number of times over the next few weeks.

Other than the submersible's robotic arm not working, the dive was a success. But from the sounds of it, it may not have made much of a difference.

"Bottom of Challenger Deep was featureless. I had this idea that life would adapt, but don't think we're seeing that."

Obviously, this is disappointing news, but perhaps he'll see something on one of his upcoming dives back to Challenger Deep. We know that life exists there from samples collected previously, and from eye witnesses on the original 1960 expedition.

"Every time you dive there's always hope you'll see something new. Sometimes ocean gives you a gift, sometimes it doesn't."

Either way, simply being in and bearing witness to the deepest place on Earth is exciting enough in itself, desolate as it may be. Lucky for us, Cameron's submersible, Deep Challenger, is equipped with 3D cameras. Using the footage gathered yesterday and over the next few weeks he plans to make at least two films—a 3D movie for theatres, and a National Geographic TV special.

The ability to share such an isolated experience so intimately with the rest of the world is truly remarkable. As soon as Cameron reached the bottom, which is 11km deep, he tweeted "Just arrived at the ocean's deepest pt. Hitting bottom never felt so good. Can't wait to share what I'm seeing w/ you @DeepChallenge." The thought that one man can venture all by himself to the most remote place on Earth, and from there, be able to talk to the entire world is an exciting technological feat.

What's even more exciting is that he won't be the only one to do that this year. Two other teams of American scientists are already planning their own trips to the Mariana Trench, with independent submersibles. Other countries are not far behind. Cameron's historic achievement marks the start of a new era in ocean exploration. Finally, what was impossible before is now attainable, and we will steadily map out the vast unchartered territory that makes up most of our planet.

"They're really the last frontier in exploration here on planet Earth."

I feel hopeful and excited for future generations of scientists. For me, exploring the deep sea was a childhood dream, and it wouldn't have been impossible, but it's very very difficult with the current state of technology, funding, and job opportunities. But now that humankind has made it to the deepest point in the ocean, in the first ever repeatable personned mission, the technology will get better, cheaper, and more pervasive. I am hopeful that for the next generation, it will be within reach for kids to dream about being a deep sea explorer, and actually grow up to be one.


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