Oceanography's Finest

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The oceans have always played an important role in human lives. The evolution of their closed relations with the ocean has been marked with the sequence of important events that influenced the ocean in some respect. One of such events was  the deepest descent of the manned research vehicle – bathyscaphe TRIESTE --below the ocean's surface in 1960 that became a technological breakthrough of great importance that broadened the boundary of man’ understanding of oceans through proving “the concept of sending man and machine as a team into the depths for oceanographic research” (Rechnitzer 56; USNI).

What

On 23 January 1960, bathyscaphe TRIESTE piloted by oceanographers Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, a Lieutenant of the United States Navy, successfully dived into the deepest point of the ocean in the Mariana Trench (“First Trip”, NOAA). A depth of 10,915 meters was reached that was considered the deepest descent and a new depth record for a manned vehicle. It was the 70th dive in a series of dives off Guam within the frame of NEKTON I project (USNI, Rechnitzer). The project included conducting environmental studies at a great depth. These studies were focused on the following (Rechnitzer 7):

  • Testing equipment at the great depths;
  • Determination of water temperature, salinity structure, sound velocity and water- currents;
  • Measurements of water clarity, light penetration, and bioluminescence;
  • Distribution of marine organisms;
  • Trench geological study.

In total, this series of dives established three new depth records for a manned submersible that meant a technological breakthrough expanding the boundaries of man’ research of the oceans.

Where

The point where TRIESTE descended is located in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean - the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench (“First Trip”; Rechnitzer). The Challenger Deep is a small flat-surfaced 0. 5 mile wide and 3 miles long valley within the trench. It was discovered by the British ship “Challenger” in 1951; its geographical location is 11° 18, 5 'N latitude and 142° 15, 5'E longitude (“First Trip”; Rechnitzer 25).

When

The project NEKTON I and NEKTON II, a series of dives off Guam, started in the end of 1959 and continued till August 1960 (Rechnitzer). The historical dive No.70 occurred on 23 January 1960.

Why

The implementation of the project that used the bathyscaphe TRIESTE as a research vehicle was caused by the necessity to conduct environmental research studies at the great depths of the ocean concerning the acquisition of information about underwater visibility, light penetration, sound transmission, and geological studies of the trench that was infeasible before (Rechnitzer; “To the Depths”). Besides, testing of equipment at the great depth was required to modify and improve the bathyscaphe design and construction for research purposes.

How

The project implementation became practicable due to the unique construction of the bathyscaphe, which was highly resistant to compression at the great depths that made it an innovative research vehicle in oceanic exploration (“First Trip”). A flat-surfaced plane, the ultimate in depths, was found by explosive echo- ranging as the point of the descent (Rechnitzer 25).

The descent was long, taking about five hours; due to some problems, the bathyscaphe was able to spend on the ocean floor about twenty minutes. The ascent took less time than the descent - only three hours (“First Trip”).

The Response to the Historical Event

The U.S. Department of Navy declared in the press release issued after the historical event that the heroic dive had demonstrated the U.S. possessing “the capability for manned exploration of the sea down to the deepest part of its floor" (“To the Depths”).

Later, in 1961, the Bathyscaphe TRIESTE was proudly paraded in Washington D.C. on the JFK Inauguration Day Parade as the evidence of conquering inner-space (“Mankind’s Conquest”).

Who Responded

The American President Dwight Eisenhower personally honored the members of the deep ocean research team, Dr. Rechnitzer, J.Piccard, Lt. Walsh and Lt. Shumaker, and awarded the medals for their triumphant achievement and contributions to the deep ocean research (Tempest).

The Outcomes

The outcomes of the TRIESTE’s descent to the deepest point of the ocean are as follows (Rechnitzer 56):

  • Successful conducting of oceanic environmental research to the maximum known depth in the oceans using a manned vehicle;
  • The acquisition of valuable environmental data concerning sound velocity, water temperature, salinity, clarity, bioluminescence, gravity, water currents, and other aspects of marine biology and oceanography;
  • An important contribution to knowledge of the structure of the sea floor.

The Short Term Effects

The short term effects imply the following (Rechnitzer):

  • The extension of deep-sea research with the manned research submersibles that allowed taking full advantages of their unique capabilities;
  • Establishing enlarged scientific programs, involving all oceanographic disciplines;
  • Improving oceanographic and acoustic instrumentation for the use on the deep research vessels.

The Long Term Effects

The validity of the concept of sending man and machine as a team into the depths for oceanographic research has been proved that opened new prospects for research (Rechnitzer 56). Besides, modifying the design of bathyscaphes allowed developing more functional deep research submersibles than the TRIESTE that .made them more valuable for future scientific works.

Conclusion

People have always used the oceans to meet their vital needs since the very onset of mankind. The development of new technologies increased man's understanding of the ocean realm. The historical descent to the deepest point of the ocean using the bathyscaphe TRIESTE, a manned vehicle, became a technological breakthrough of great importance that revealed new boundaries of ocean understanding through provingthe concept of “sending man and machine as a team into the depths for oceanographic research” (Rechnitzer 56; USNI).

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