For World Oceans Day: the Deepsea Challenger

Happy World Oceans Day folks!  The theme for this years WOD is “We all have the power to protect the oceans” and there are events on all over the place in celebration of our Blue Planet.

To kick off WOD celebrations, we were super fortunate at Georgia Aquarium to get a short-notice visit from James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger submersible this week, on it’s way to its new home at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  If you remember, all of us at DeepSN wrote about the amazing achievements of Cameron’s team back in 2012 when they safely returned to the bottom of the Marianas Trench south of Guam for the first time since 1960 and only the second time ever (Piccard and Walsh being the first, in bathyscaphe Trieste). Read those posts here and here and here and here and here and here.   Several of the DC team were present at the festivities, as were some folks from WHOI including Dr. David Gallo and long time DSV Alvin pilot Anthony Tarantino.  It was awesome to have the sub there in the flesh, so to speak, and there was much rejoicing.

2013-06-06 08.57.31The first thing you notice about the sub is that it’s not as big as you might expect.  It’s sleek, uncluttered, and very very GREEN.  They’ve got a great rig for transporting it around and showing it off, including the training sphere (the real sphere is inside the faring at the right hand end of the image above, in between the blue post and the tyres you can see that protect the base.

The sphere itself is MINISCULE.  It’s hard for me to relate just how tiny it is, but here’s me holding my 18 month old daughter in front of it.  Just think, James Cameron is over 6 feet tall and had to be locked into that thing for over 7 hours, with 7 miles of water over his head.  It was not only an amazing engineering endeavour, but also an incredible human endurance feat.  While in the sphere, the only view out was between his knees and through the tiny port you can see in the door (about the size of a baseball)



One of the more interesting aspects of the subs design are the battery arrays, both in their type and arrangement.  Most subs use lead acid batteries, but to get the energy density and compactness they needed, the DC team used Lithium ion.  They’re arrayed in cells on the outside of the middle pod, separated by syntactic foam firewalls and are plumbed together with lots of tubing.  Tarantino told me that they had to it that way in case any one cell should melt or catch fire.  When I look at the arrays all I can think of is “wow, there’s a lot of little bits there that could break under that sort of pressure”; but obviously they designed it properly because it worked.

2013-06-06 09.03.17It was a great thrill to be able to examine the sub closely and to talk to those who were there on the day that the dive was made (although Cameron himself couldn’t be present).  There was an excited atmosphere among the staff and the guests alike as people peppered the DC team with questions about deepsea exploration.  I had an absolute ball and consider myself pretty lucky, since it stopped only in Dallas, Atlanta and DC on its way to Woods Hole.  In it’s new home, WHOI engineers will work alongside the DC team on technology transfer and training and then ultimately the sub should become part of the WHOI operations fleet.  That shouldn’t be too hard because the sub deploys with a standard deck crane and some cargo straps (!), and does’nt need fancy A-frames like many submersibles – another benefit of its lightweight design. With any luck the US deep submergence fleet will then double from 1 (Alvin) to 2!

Read more about the Deepsea Challenger and it’s mission here:



2 Replies to “For World Oceans Day: the Deepsea Challenger”

  1. So jealous you got to see this. James Cameron gave a talk at UCSD and then just dropped it on us that the DeepSea Challenger was going to be in L.A. the next day….I wanted to see so bad =( This is the next best thing. Thanks Al.

    P.S. I like your sphere scale bar. She is pretty darn cute in her polka dot pants.

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