Why bother exploring the ocean floor?
Subduction zones are responsible for most of the active volcanoes on earth as well as most major earthquakes and tsunamis. In fact, 9 of the 10 largest earthquakes of the past century have occurred in subduction zones, as did the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011 . By exploring these fault lines and understanding how the plates interact with each other, geologists hope to better understand these natural disasters and more accurately model fault movement in subduction zones. The sea floor is also of great interest to biologists due to the unique life forms that live in the dark depths of the ocean. The average depth of the ocean floor is 12,200 feet, with sunlight penetrating only 1,000 feet below the waves . Consequently, organisms living near the sea floor cannot use the sun as a source of energy and have developed unique alternatives to sustain themselves. For instance, while exploring geothermal vents in the earth, scientists discovered chemosynthetic bacteria that live off of the hydrogen sulfide exhausted from these deep-sea hydrothermal vents. These bacteria provide an energy source for other life forms and allow a unique ecosystem to thrive near these deep-ocean vents . Scientists hope to analyze the DNA of these organisms and other sea creatures in order to understand how they function. Furthermore, since the sea floor contains large deposits of oil and minerals, finding a way to collect them safely and economically would prove to be very profitable.
Dangers of the deep
The evolution of deep-sea exploration
Although the Trieste’s dive was a major feat of engineering, this craft was not a practical ship to use for scientific exploration. The Trieste had few lights, no video cameras, no way to collect samples from the sea floor, and only spent less than half an hour at Challenger Deep. An ABC report of the dive stated, “They [Walsh and Piccard] said at the time that their sub kicked up so much muck that there was almost nothing visible through their thick viewing ports” . However, the development of syntactic foam in the 1960s led to a new building material for diving vessels that were both buoyant and durable, eliminating the need for a massive gasoline-filled float. The new material allowed for the development of much smaller craft, outfitted with more modern technology to allow for economical scientific exploration. In addition, advancements in robotics allowed deep-sea craft to be fitted with mechanical arms, enabling them to interact with the environment and collect samples for research. These new compact submersibles, such as the DSV Alvin, have been used in a number of tasks, ranging from exploring the Titanic to disarming nuclear warheads on the ocean floor.
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