Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Final Frontier?


          The deep sea has been described as “The final frontier” because there are still incredible mysteries that we do not know about this unique ecosystem, even with the advanced technology today. The largest of all these deep-sea ecosystems is the Mariana trench reaching an amazing 7 miles in depth. The Mariana trench is also 50 times larger than the Grand Canyon. I was always under the impression that it was just a tunnel that went down extremely deep, in the shape of an underwater volcano. The deep sea and the incredibly unique creatures that inhabit it have always fascinated me. Ever since I was a little kid I have always wanted to dive to extreme depths of the ocean and discover some rare type of fish that was never previously known about. Therefore, James Cameron’s dive down to the Mariana trench was of great interest and I decided to look into it more and see what his findings were.
            James Cameron is the first human to go down to these depths since 1960 when the first expedition was sent down to the deep. Since then, 5 people have died trying to make it to the bottom of the ocean floor. This article states that the submarine alone that Cameron went down in took 7 years to build. Due to the immense amount of pressure exerted at these depths a state of the art vehicle had to be built. A project of this magnitude is obviously extremely expensive. This dive was funded by National Geographic, Richard Branson (owner of Virgin Records/Mobile), and Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google). Unfortunately, Cameron says that he did not see much at the bottom of the ocean on his epic dive. I thought that he was going to find some unique creatures that have never been seen before. Cameron states that it was just bleak and resembled the moon. The trip was supposed to last for 6 hours, however, the submarine experienced an oil leak after only 3 hours due to the enormous amounts of pressure. Cameron had to ascend up in a hurry, completing the 7-mile accent in only 70 minutes. Just to put into perspective how much pressure is down at that depth, the article said that it is equivalent to three full size SUVs on your thumb, on every inch of your body. At these depths the pressure is about 16,000 pounds per square inch. The pressure was so great that while the submarine was at the bottom it actually shrunk an entire three inches. As a side note, once more of these submarines are developed people will be able to pay to take a trip down to the bottom of the Mariana trench. Price tag? 250,000 dollars per person.  
            Not only is it important to explore the deep seas to discover the unique creatures that inhabit that ecosystem, but scientists also believe that that deep-sea trenches play an essential role on earthquakes, such as the recent devastating earthquake in Japan due to the push and pulling of tectonic plates. This brings up an interesting debate that sparked my interest. Public policy officials have been debating if the funding of these types of expeditions and organizations should be funded by public tax dollars or wealthy private individuals (like in this example). I have mixed emotions. I understand this type of research is absolutely important, however, I am sure there was a hefty price tag on the funding of this research, which that money could have been allocated to something closer to home such as education. What do you think about the funding of a project like this by public tax dollars?      


  1. A great deal of basic research funding leads to economic benefits that are hard to predict or plan ahead. So while deep sea exploration may seem expensive, who knows what new energy source, drug of other technology will come from the science that is done there.

  2. That is true, I never though about it that way. With the vastness of the deep sea it is very possible that we could find some new energy source or some sort of drug. I would love to do research on a compound/drug isolated from the deep sea and its affects on the human body!