Technology and deep ocean exploration

Deep ocean exploration requires technological innovation comparable with the exploration of space. The problem of sustaining life under the extreme pressure of the deep ocean is not rocket science. Arguably it’s a whole lot harder!

Only three people have ever ‘landed’ on the deepest point of the Earth – ‘Challenger Deep’ is almost seven miles down (10,994m /35,069ft) in the Marianas Trench in the western Pacific Ocean near Guam. The pressure on a human body would be equivalent to 12 jumbo jets.

In comparison just 12 people have walked on the surface of the moon.

The history of the development of deep-sea technology is as littered with triumphs and tragedies as any other field of extreme human endeavour. But it has also inspired one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written, Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, published in 1870 when submarines were still very primitive.

Memorable landmarks along the way include:

Approx. 300 BC: Alexander the Great used ‘diving bells’ for attacking enemy ships from under the water.

1624: Cornelius Drebbel demonstrated the first submarine in front of King James 1 in the Thames. It dived to 15ft and stayed submerged for up to three hours.

1776: Yale student David Bushnell built a submarine during the American War of Independence but failed to sink the British ship, Eagle.

1900: Irish American, John Holland, developed the first commercially successful submarine (including a self-propelled torpedo) that was bought by the U.S. navy.

1930 - 1934:  William Beebe and Otis Barton became the first people to descend to the deep ocean from a location off the coast of Bermuda. They used a Bathysphere, a spherical chamber lowered by a cable from a ship to reach a depth of 923 metres (3,028 feet). 

1960s: US Diving Support Vehicle, Alvin, was a three-person capsule equipped with underwater lights, cameras, a television system, and a mechanical manipulator/collector that could dive to 3,600m (12,000ft).

1980s: The first ‘underwater habitats’ allowed scientific observations to be conducted underwater over an extended period. 600 aquanauts from nine countries worked aboard Hydrolab, like an underwater version of the International Space Station, between 1970–85.

ROVs/AUVs/HOVs: Remotely Operated Vehicles, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and Human Operated Vehicles developed over the last 50 years are now the cutting-edge of deep-sea exploration and scientific research.