Scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Southern California, the University of Hawaii and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are partnering with Virgin Oceanic on this unique and exciting expedition.
For the first time, the deepest trenches in each of the five oceans will be available for surveying, mapping and sampling from an occupied submersible. No current human-occupied submersibles can dive deeper than 6,500 meters (21,325 feet), so most of the oceans’ trenches have only been explored with robotic vehicles – and some not at all, as availability of these systems is limited. For scientists who study the deepest part of the ocean and the animals that live there, the human presence will provide unprecedented access.
Even in the famous Mariana Trench, the deepest in the world, man has only touched down upon its depths once. The single dive by the bathyscaphe Trieste in 1960 with Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard was groundbreaking for its day, but even that great feat allowed access only to a column of water straight down and straight back up.
Scientists are excited by the opportunity to have a free-flying submersible that can traverse the bottom of the trench and collect data from a variety of points along the bottom. It’s as if Lewis and Clark had a Cessna to make the first survey of America’s West.
Some of the trenches that Virgin Oceanic will explore have never been mapped in detail. Currently, ocean maps are very low resolution (think only 2 zooms on a Google map). Many are created solely based on data gathered from satellites or ship-based systems.
Read more about the research being planned for the expedition.