The Mariana Trench (not to be confused with the Canadian pop band), is the deepest part of the ocean. Which ocean? All of the oceans in the world! That being said, that doesn’t mean it is the closest to the centre of the Earth though. Given the shape of the Earth, this just isn’t the case. That might be something you didn’t know.
This article is full of those things that one might not have been aware of, when thinking about the Mariana Trench (if any of you have ever spent much time thinking about it to begin with). There are some fascinating creatures down there. Not to mention geological phenomena that strain credulity!
It is a beautifully dark, cold, and unforgiving place. And while there is certainly more than enough to fill this article up with cool facts and things readers might not have known about the trench…there is still so much to be learned about it, and the rest of the deep blue sea (not the film).
15. It’s So Deep You Can Drown Everest And Keep Going
The Mariana Trench is so deep, that it could more than comfortably fit Mount Everest in its depths, and still have room to hide it. Hell, if say James Cameron started from the bottom of the trench, with his little submersible, and traveled up the height of a drowned Mount Everest, he would still have two kilometres to travel. After clearing the mountain, to reach the surface of the ocean. There is still four kilometres left to the very bottom of the trench, if Cameron left from the depth of the wrecked Titanic (which he also explored at one point). If one took the Mariana Trench floor to be the surface of the Earth on which we have built our airfields, then a commercial airline would still not break past the surface of the ocean during its flight. there would be about one more kilometre of space between the plane and the open air. All of these fun comparisons are basically a simple and mind-blowing way of saying that the Mariana Trench is just about eleven kilometres deep. Now let’s find out some more about what it’s like down there.
14. The Pressure And This Truck
Some of you readers might very well ask “what the hell does this moving truck have to do with the Mariana Trench? Did it end up at the bottom, or something?” And the answers to those questions are simple. First of all, if this truck ended up at the bottom, there would absolutely be a photo of that in place of the one above. Secondly, this truck has everything to do with pressure. Because the Mariana Trench is so deep, the amount of pressure from all of the water that fills the trench is staggering. There are eight tons per square inch in the depths of the trench. So as a means to put that into perspective, above is an eight ton truck. Now imagine one of these on you, for every square inch of your body…or perhaps there’s even a better way to explain it. Imagine fifty jumbo jets piled on top of one person. That’s the sort of pressure that exists down there. And yet, the trench is flourishing with life of all sorts.
13. The Barreleye Fish
Speaking of life flourishing, here is the barreleye fish. Now no one said that life in the depths had to be pretty. In actuality, most of it is pretty breathtakingly ugly…but the diversity of nature really does make it beautiful, in a sense. This very odd fish has a completely transparent head, believed to be for the purpose of catching more light, in order to hunt prey. Now its ocular construction is very much like two barrels (hence the name). Atop these barrels sit the lenses through which the fish can see. Most of the time the lenses are faced upwards to look for the silhouettes of prey, but the fish can rotate these lenses around the barrels, in order to face forward, or basically any direction that its transparent head will allow. The barreleye was first discovered in 1939, but no one really had a good idea of what it was like back then, as it would essentially collapse after being depressurized, when brought to the surface of the ocean.
12. The Trench Floor And Its Yellow Ooze
Think about the trenches from World War I. They were muddy, wet, and filled with all sorts of death and decay. Well, the floor of the Mariana Trench is not all that different, as a matter of fact. Those creatures that do have the misfortune of delving too deep, tend not to survive the pressure of the ocean at this depth (11km). And those creatures that do simply die, whether at the floor, or many kilometres up, do eventually settle, and are crushed by the extreme weight of the water. The above photo is of James Cameron’s DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, as it reaches the very bottom of the Mariana Trench. Everyone knows that he ventured down there and innovated new technology in order to capture it all on film. As amazing as that is, the detail of the photo I want to point out is the smoke-like plume that is being kicked up on the right side of the photo. Much like those WWI trenches, there are several inches of filth before an actual solid surface is reached. In the Mariana Trench, all of the skeletons and decaying tissues being hammered away at by the ocean pressure, create a sickly, yellow-coloured ooze that coats the trench floor.
11. It’s Filled With Waste (Even Part Of Appollo 13)
Given how horrible our species has been for the environment above the surface of the ocean, is it really any surprise at all that we have also caused a great amount of devastation below as well? Parts of the trench were used for things like pharmaceutical waste disposal, back in the seventies. That would have been not far from forty years before George W. Bush made the trench a national monument. Apparently, in a span of only five years, almost 390,000 tons of waste were deposited into the trench. The Independent put that into perspective for us, by comparing it to the equivalent of 880 Bowing 747s. In addition to that, there have been cans of Spam found down there, as well as outboard motors, and other pieces of wreckage. Including (and hence the photo above) a radioisotope thermoelectric generator that was meant to accompany the Apollo 13 mission to the Moon. But given the explosion and the need to jettison all but the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module), the generator was released and apparently survived reentry. Now it rests somewhere around eight kilometres below the ocean surface.
10. The Hadal Zone – Trench Floor Likened To Hades’ Underworld
This is perhaps one of the coolest things I’ve discovered about the Mariana Trench in all of the research done. There are four zones that demarcate the depths of the oceans. The Littoral and Bathyal zones from the surface to three kilometres deep. These are followed then by the Abyssal zone, which extends to six kilometres…but anything below that is referred to as being part of the Hadal zone. This is in reference to the Greek Hades. What’s amazing about this term is that it fully encompasses what it is to be at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It is absolutely a land for the dead, given all of the creatures that end up part of the yellow ooze that is the result of the oceanic pressure cooker (or cooler, really). And as Hades forbade his residents from leaving, so too can these creatures, with very few exceptions, not leave their habitat. As aforementioned, creatures like the barreleye fish would simply collapse due to the change in pressure.
9. When Boiling Water Meets Freezing Cold Water
The Mariana Trench is home to an incredible geological site known as the “Volcanic Arc”. Much chemical testing has been done in order to pinpoint certain phenomena and discover prime locations for the certain types of creatures. One of the ways in which scientists have been able to conduct such analyses is by “casting” for certain types of metals. This might not be as prominent in the main arc, but the Mariana Back-arc is very rich in iron, being so far away from light and rather cupped in shape. The interesting thing about the way these elements react in the depths (like in the case of the Champagne Vents), is that they are being propelled from a place of extreme heat, into a place of extreme cold. The Mariana Trench sits not very high above freezing temperatures. But the hydrothermal vents found strewn about the chasm, can be gushing upwards of 450 degrees Celsius! And in spite of that extreme heat (where things like thermophiles dwell), the water being hit by these vents does not boil at all. The force of pressure from the water disallows the heat to expand the molecules in such a way.
8. The Seadevil Angler Fish
The footage of this very bizarre fish might seem absolutely fake. It does seriously look like a computer generated video of what one might think a seadevil angler might be like under water. But truth be told, that is actual footage of the evil-looking angler, courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Some people may be familiar with the angler fish from the popular Disney film, Finding Nemo. Realistically, the main character probably would not have found themselves so deep in the ocean that they would come across a deep sea angler. Dori and daddy would have been crushed by the pressure of the ocean, long before they found their way to one of these deep sea devils. Regardless, the general depiction of the angler in Finding Nemo is accurate. The way in which it captures its prey is by attracting it with a bio-luminescent lure that is slightly removed from the main trunk of the fish by a sort of fishing pole. Since there is hardly any light in the depth, fish are attracted and are then gobbled up by the terrifying creature.
7. The HMS Challenger – The Ship That Led To The Discovery Of The Trench
This vessel is obviously not going to be easily confused with James Cameron’s DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, but there is an important connection, regardless. It just so happens that Cameron’s little submersible, as well as his IMAX film, were both named after the HMS Challenger. This ship is responsible for the discovery of the Mariana Trench, all the way back in 1875. This steam-assisted corvette was first launched in 1858, but was not sent out to explore the depths until 1872. Having circumnavigated the globe, this vessel discovered the trench via sounding equipment, only one year before the Challenger Expedition came to a close. 76 years after the discovery, the Challenger II sounded the trench once again. And since then, both explorations into space, as well as the depths of the ocean, have been graced with the name Challenger. A NASA shuttle, that flew nine missions and was tragically destroyed at the outset of its tenth mission, shared the same name. And of course, Cameron’s submersible shares the name – though thankfully his vessel could handle the pressure.
6. Bathyscaphe Trieste – The First Submersible To Reach “Challenger Deep”
The above photo is of the Bathyscaphe Trieste; the very first submersible to reach what is called the “Challenger Deep” (the deepest part of the Mariana Trench – also named after the ship that discovered it). An American naval officer and a Swiss scientist hopped into that tiny, metal bubble and managed to reach the floor of the trench. This was back in 1960! And for some odd reason, no one else ever dares to go back. Not until 52 years after the fact did anyone even really think to make another voyage. But think of the ingenuity of the human race. At the very outset of the sixties (before hippies and the civil rights movement), people dared to go to the farthest depths of the ocean. And at the very end of the sixties (as the hippies dwindled, and the civil rights movement achieved significant victories), people dared to land on the Moon. There is something to say about the human spirit and its ability to really accept a challenge.
5. The Goblin Shark
This shark…is probably one of the most terrifying creatures on the planet. And not necessarily because of how dangerous it is. The older a goblin shark gets, the deeper it swims into the Mariana Trench, but before it reaches a ripe enough old age to keep diving, it can still grow up to eighteen feet. To put that into perspective, the largest of great white sharks can grow up to about twenty feet. So in terms of length, there is not much difference. Of course overall size is something else. But it’s not the size, or aggressive nature that is terrifying about this creature (though those things would surely be frightening up close). No, rather it is the way in which the goblin shark attacks its prey. The above feature image for the video, shows the jaw part-way through action. The lower section of the jaw actually typically sits near the nose of the shark. But rather than having a solid bone-structured jaw, the goblin has nothing more than tendons and ligaments that allow the jaw to fully unhinge, revealing the top set of teeth, and surprising the hell out of its victim.
4. It’s An American National Monument
One of the very few and useful things that George W. Bush did in his two terms as President of the United States, was to make the Mariana Trench an American National Monument. One may wonder just how the hell he could stake that claim on an oceanic trench that is 246,000 square km. Well, as it happens, the United States has governance over the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as Guam. These island commonwealths were used as the land boundaries with which to define the American claim of such a bizarre national monument. And just why is this a good thing? Well, imagine some sort of element, or species, or some great commodity is found in the depths of the Mariana. Now imagine that this was no monument. It would be strip-mined of every last bit of value, simply under the guise of progress. But now, sitting as a national monument, it can be explored, and studied, and left in peace to continue to thrive in ways that we still can barely comprehend.
3. Subduction – The Phenomenon That Gave Rise To The Land We Walk On
Alright, so trying to stay away from being all too scientific and academic about this really awesome place in this world of ours, there is something called “subduction”. Essentially what this is, is the shifting of tectonic plates where one drives itself underneath another. This is how volcanoes are primed for eruption and why hydrothermal events like the Champagne Vents exist. The reason why this is something so unbelievably cool though, is that this is in part why we also exist. The subduction of tectonic plates allows for the rise of certain sections of the planet that would otherwise have sat below the surface of the ocean forever. But amazingly, from the shifting of these plates, land has surfaced over billions of years, and we are now able to reside on it and flourish. These shifts will (not in our time) be the result of even more land, assuming that the Sun has not vaporized the planet by that point. And then there may very well be additional continents. Considering how little mankind knows about the depths of the ocean, the goings on down there are eternally important to the survival of the planet.
2. The Co2 Filled Champagne Vents
What is in the photo above is a collection of hydrothermal vents, within the Mariana Trench. This photo shows only a small section of a series of vents in this particular area. Because of the bubbly nature of these vents, they are aptly called the “Champagne Vents”. These hydrothermal vents were once thought to be merely pumping out good old, harmless H2O…but that is certainly not the case. If one could get deep enough, without being crushed by pressure…and close enough without being boiled to death, one would be doing nothing more than taking in mass amounts of carbon dioxide. Pure CO2. Imagine if this was not utilized by the sea life below, and had the same brutal effects that CO2 emissions are having on the surface of the planet? With the amount of CO2 emitted from these vents, the icecaps would likely already be gone (if these flowed freely on the surface). But it’s still amazing. The pressure allows for this complete distillation of pure CO2.
1. Marianas Trench
Ok, we just simply couldn’t get away without addressing it. This is the Canadian band, Marianas Trench. Originally known as Ramsay Fiction (after the name of the lead singer), they decided to come up with something a bit more exciting, and less egotistical. Of all the names just thrown out there, the trench was brought up. It wasn’t even an “aha” moment, nor did it have really any justification. “We’re medium on it. We don’t love it or hate it. If we knew how many questions we were going to get about the band name, we wouldn’t have picked it.” They didn’t even really care about the name! At least not until James Cameron made his exploration of the Challenger Deep. “Believe or not, it made kids more interested in the band. That changed a lot of things for us, because there was tons of press on TV.” How lucky must these guys have felt when they named their band after something they didn’t even care about…only to gain a metric f*ck ton of press thanks to its exploration!?