Published November 2004
Dear Sea Scoop,
What is the deepest part of the ocean?
– Erik Berg, Chicago
The Pacific Ocean wins the award for being home to the deepest part of the ocean. There is an area off of the Marianas Islands (11 degrees 22 minutes north latitude and 142 degrees 36 minutes east longitude) that has a very deep trench in the ocean floor. A British survey ship, the Challenger II, discovered it in 1951. The deepest part of the Marianas Trench is now called the Challenger Deep in honor of that expedition.
In 1953, a Swiss physicist named Auguste Piccard designed and built a bathyscaphe (a boat capable of going very deep) called the Trieste. Piccard used gasoline to fill the bathyscaphe's floats, based on the principle that gasoline is lighter than water. The gas would then flood the ship's air tanks, allowing it to descend. As the Trieste dropped deeper, the gasoline would compress under the pressure of the water, reducing its buoyancy and allowing it to descend faster.
After some modifications to the bathyscaphe, the U.S. Navy purchased the Trieste II for $250,000. On Jan. 23, 1960, two men, U.S. Navy Lt. Donald Walsh and Jacques Piccard, climbed into the Trieste and spent nearly five hours descending to the deepest part of the ocean, a world never before seen by humans. They touched the bottom of the Challenger Deep at 35,813 feet. For those who don't feel like doing the conversion, that's nearly seven miles below the surface of the ocean. Walsh and Piccard spent fewer than twenty minutes on the ocean floor before beginning the ascent that took over three hours.
This was indeed a remarkable expedition. First, no one else has ever repeated this amazing feat. To this day, Walsh and Piccard are the only human beings ever to sit at the bottom of the Challenger Deep. While they were on the ocean floor they had 16,000 pounds of pressure per square inch over their heads.
To give you an idea of just how deep these men were, imagine if you could put Mount Everest at the bottom of the Challenger Deep – once in position, the 29,035 foot-high mountain would still have over a mile of water covering its snowy peak.
You never know what you can accomplish if you try, particularly if you're a Piccard. On May 27, 1931, Auguste Piccard, the creator of the Trieste, made the first manned balloon flight into the stratosphere. He and his partner Paul Kipfer set a new altitude record of 51,961 feet. It was Auguste's son Jacques who accompanied Donald Walsh to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. In March, 1999, two men completed the first non-stop flight around the earth in a hot air balloon, long considered to be the last great challenge in aviation. The name of one of the pilots Bertrand Piccard, the son of Jacques and grandson of August. As the writer Jacques Lacarriere said, "These three incarnate man's wildest dreams metamorphosing into a fish or a bird. But what is even more amazing is that they have succeeded in transforming their dreams into reality."
For more information on the Trieste Expedition and ocean exploration, go to www.marianatrench.com.
Check out Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute at www.whoi.edu.
For more information on the Piccards:
Have a question for about the world beneath the waves? Write it down and send it to Sea Scoop! Please remember to include your name and where you're from.
For more information on marine science in the Virgin Islands, visit the University of the Virgin Islands' Center for Marine & Environmental Studies.
Elizabeth Ban is the University of the Virgin Islands Marine Adviser for St. Thomas and St. John. She works to inform and educate citizens about ocean resources and promote coastal ecosystem health. She is based at UVI's Center for Marine and Environmental studies on the St. Thomas Campus. For more information about UVI's Marine Advisory programs, please call 340-693-1392.
Published November 2004