By Michael Mendun (modified by MarineBio.org, approx. vertical scale: 1 line = 100 feet)
What's down there? Never have we looked at the ocean, from the surface through the depths to the miles-deep seafloor, in one long gaze. Next fall, Emory Kristof will do just that. The 62-year-old photographer, along with an A-team of biologists, oceanographers, and two of Jacques Cousteau's grandchildren, will venture to the Mariana Trench, just off the coast of Guam in the Pacific Ocean. There they will drop a remotely operated camera system 7 miles down to the bottom of the deepest spot on Earth. The result: the first photographic core sample of the ocean. Kristof hopes the mission will help scientists understand how the undersea food chain works. Here's a virtual descent to 36,201 feet (11,034 meters).
- 0 FEET: EPIPELAGIC ZONE = 1 atmosphere (atm) = 14.7 psi = 1.01325 bar
33 feet (10 m): Depth equivalent to twice the average sea level atmospheric pressure or 2 atmospheres (atm = Depth + 33/ 33) = 29.4 psi. Ample sunlight penetrates down to 650 feet, making photosynthesis possible. With abundant plant life (read: food), this zone is the most densely populated with fish.
220 feet: Depth at which compressed air becomes toxic and can cause seizures in divers.
558 feet: Max human free diving limit. Only two people have held their breath to this depth: Audrey Mestre, who died in 2002 when her equipment failed; and her husband, Pipin Ferreras, who tied her unofficial dive record one year later.
656 FEET: MESOPELAGIC ZONE
Max depth to support photosynthesis: The fish that survive here are sit-and-wait predators that tend to have large mouths and specialized retinas to increase light reception.
660 feet: Maximum diving depth of the Pacific white-sided dolphin.
- 1,000 feet
1,010 feet: Scuba-diving record set by Brit diver John Bennett in 2001.
1,640 feet: Maximum diving depth of the Blue whale.
1,969 feet: The Deep Sound Channel, a layer in which acoustic signals travel far and fast. Maximum diving depth of nuclear-powered attack subs.
- 2,000 feet
- 3,000 feet
3,281 FEET: BATHYPELAGIC ZONE >>> 1 Km = 100 atm = 1,470 psi
The ocean is dark at this level; the only glow is from bioluminescent animals. There are no living plants, and creatures subsist by eating the debris that falls from the levels above (aka "marine snow"), including dead or dying fish and plankton.
3,937 feet: Maximum diving depth of the Leatherback sea turtle.
- 4,000 feet: The domain of the Pacific sleeper shark, the largest toothed shark ever photographed. It can reach lengths of 28 feet.
- 5,000 feet: A new species of jellyfish, about the size of a thumbnail, was caught at this depth during Emory Kristof's 2002 Arctic expedition.
5,187 feet: Maximum diving depth of the Elephant seal.
>>> 1 Mile (5,280 feet) = 161 atm = 2,367 psi
- 6,000 feet
6,562 feet >>> 2 Km = 200 atm = 2,940 psi: Maximum operating depth of the research submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V.
- 7,000 feet
- 8,000 feet
8,038 feet: Depth of the hydrothermal vents at the Galápagos Rift, discovered in 1977.
8,500 feet: Kristof discovered a new species of octopus living at this depth, 500 miles west of Acapulco, Mexico.
- 9,000 feet
9,843 feet >>> 3 Km = 300 atm = 4,410 psi
- 10,000 feet
10,500 feet: The largest cusk eel, at a mammoth 7 feet long, was observed at this depth.
>>> 2 Miles (10,560 feet) = 321 atm = 4,718.7 psi. Maximum diving depth of the Sperm whale (average hunting depth is 400-1,200 m). To navigate in the darkness, these whales emit high pitched sounds and echoes to determine the location of prey.
- 11,000 feet
- 12,000 feet
12,434 feet (3,790 m): Average ocean depth.
12,500 feet: Depth of the wreck of the Titanic discovered by a US-French team headed by Woods Hole researcher Robert Ballard in 1985.
- 13,000 feet
13,123 FEET: ABYSSOPELAGIC ZONE >>> 4 Km = 400 atm = 5,880 psi
In the pitch-dark of the abyss, there is no light at all, the water temperature is near freezing. Of the few creatures found at these crushing depths, most are blind and have long tentacles - tiny invertebrates such as shrimp, basket stars, and small squids. Max. depth of the first transatlantic cable, laid in August 1858. The 2,500-mile (4,023 km) cable connected Ireland and Newfoundland. Maximum operating depth of the ROV Tiburon.
- 14,000 feet: A lone 8-inch-long shrimp spotted at this depth in 1979 may be all we currently know about the deep-sea biology of the North Pole.
14,764 feet: Maximum operating depth of the research submersible Alvin. In use since 1964, Alvin was the first deep-sea sub to successfully carry passengers.
- 15,000 feet
15,420 feet: Some of the deepest photos Kristof has taken are of anemones on the wreck of the Bismarck in the Atlantic Ocean.
>>> 3 Miles (15,840 feet) = 481 atm = 7,071 psi
- 16,000 feet
16,404 feet >>> 5 Km = 500 atm = 7,350 psi
- 17,000 feet
- 18,000 feet
- 19,000 feet
19,685 FEET: HADOLPELAGIC ZONE >>> 6 Km = 600 atm = 8,820 psi
Despite the intense pressure and frigid temperature in the deepwater trenches and canyons, life still exists here, especially near hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. Invertebrates such as starfish actually thrive. Maximum operating depth of the three-person Russian submersibles Mir I and Mir II.
- 20,000 feet
- 21,000 feet
>>> 4 Miles (21,120 feet) = 641 atm = 9,423 psi
- 22,000 feet
22,966 feet >>> 7 Km = 700 atm = 10,290 psi
- 23,000 feet
- 24,000 feet
- 25,000 feet
- 26,000 feet
26,247 >>> 8 Km = 800 atm = 11,760 psi
>>> 5 Miles (26,400 feet) = 801 atm = 11,775 psi
26,850 feet: Deepest depth reading taken by HMS Challenger at the Mariana Trench in 1875 during the world's first oceanographic expedition. The measurement was made by lowering a weighted line to the seafloor. The Challenger stocked 144 miles of rope for this purpose.
- 27,000 feet
27,460 feet: Depth of deepest-living fish ever recorded. The 8-inch-long Abyssobrotula galatheae, a species of cusk eel, was collected from the Puerto Rico Trench.
- 28,000 feet
- 29,000 feet
>>> 29,035 feet (8,850 m or 8.85 Km) - Mount Everest, highest point on Planet Ocean.
29,528 feet >>> 9 Km = 900 atm = 13,230 psi
- 30,000 feet
- 31,000 feet
>>> 6 Miles (31,680 feet) = 961 atm = 14,127 psi
- 32,000 feet
32,808 feet >>> 10 Km = 1,000 atm = 14,700 psi
- 33,000 feet
- 34,000 feet
- 35,000 feet
35,800 feet: Depth of the deepest manned dive. Jacques Piccard and US Navy lieutenant Don Walsh visited the Mariana Trench in the submersible Trieste on January 23, 1960. Through their porthole, Piccard and Walsh reportedly observed an animal resembling a type of flatfish (most likely of the Family Soleidae) that was about a foot long. The Japan Marine Science and Technology Center revisited the site with an ROV in 1995, setting a new official unmanned submersible depth record.
- 36,000 feet
36,089 feet >>> 11 Km = 1,100 atm = 16,170 psi
36,201 feet (11,034 meters): Deepest recorded ocean depth, taken by the Soviet submersible Vityaz in 1957. >>> 6.86 Miles = 1098 atm = 16,141 psi = 8.07 tons per square inch.
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