Tuesday, March 1, 2011


The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the world's oceans, and the lowest elevation of the surface of the Earth's crust. It is currently estimated to be up to 10,971 m (35,994 ft) deep. It is located in the western Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Mariana Islands. The trench is about 2,550 kilometres (1,580 mi) long but has a mean width of only 69 kilometres (43 mi). It reaches a maximum-known depth of about 10.91 kilometres (6.78 mi) at the Challenger Deep, a small slot-shaped valley in its floor, at its southern end; although, some unrepeated measurements place the deepest portion at 11.03 kilometres (6.85 mi). If Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth at 8,848 metres (29,029 ft), were set in the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, there would be 2,076 metres (6,811 ft) of water left above it.

The trench was first sounded during the Challenger expedition (December 1872 – May 1876), which recorded a depth of 4,475 fathoms, 8,184 m (26,850 feet). In 1877 a map was published called Tiefenkarte des Grossen Oceans by Petermann, which showed a Challenger Tief at the location of that sounding. In 1899 USS Nero, a converted collier, recorded a depth of 5269 fathoms (9,636 m, 31,614 ft). Challenger II surveyed the trench using echo sounding, a much more precise and vastly easier way to measure depth than the sounding equipment and drag lines used in the original expedition. During this survey, the deepest part of the trench was recorded when the Challenger II measured a depth of 5,960 fathoms (10,900 m, 35,760 ft) at 11°19′N 142°15′E / 11.317°N 142.25°E / 11.317; 142.25, known as the Challenger Deep.
In 1957, the Soviet vessel Vityaz reported a depth of 11,034 m (36,201 ft), dubbed the Mariana Hollow.
In 1962, the surface ship M.V. Spencer F. Baird recorded a maximum depth of 10,915 m (35,840 ft), using precision depth gauges.
In 1984, the Japanese survey vessel Takuyō (拓洋), collected data from the Mariana Trench using a narrow, multi-beam echo sounder; it reported a maximum depth of 10,924 m, also reported as 10,920 metres ± 10 metres.
In 2003, a spot was found along the Mariana Trench, the depth of which is around the same depth as the Challenger Deep, possibly even deeper. It was discovered while scientists from the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology were completing a survey around Guam; they used a sonar mapping system towed behind the research ship to conduct the survey. This new spot was named the HMRG (Hawaii Mapping Research Group) Deep, after the group of scientists who discovered it.
On 1 June 2009 sonar mapping of the Challenger Deep by the Simrad EM120 sonar multibeam bathymetry system for deep water (300 - 11,000 m) mapping aboard the RV Kilo Moana (mothership of the Nereus vehicle), has indicated a spot with a depth of 10,971 m (35,994 ft). The sonar system uses phase and amplitude bottom detection, with an accuracy of better than 0.2% of water depth across the entire swath (implying the depth figure is accurate to less than ± 11 metres).

The Swiss-designed, Italian-built, United States Navy bathyscaphe Trieste reached the bottom at 1:06 p.m. on January 23, 1960, with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard on board. Iron shot was used for ballast, with gasoline for buoyancy. The onboard systems indicated a depth of 11,521 m (37,799 ft), but this was later revised to 10,916 m (35,814 ft). At the bottom, Walsh and Piccard were surprised to discover sole or flounder about 30 cm (1 ft) long, as well as a shrimp. According to Piccard, "The bottom appeared light and clear, a waste of firm diatomaceous ooze".

Trieste, who first reached the bottom of Mariana Trench January 23,1960

Nereus in action
Only three descents have ever been achieved. The first was the manned descent by Trieste in 1960. This was followed by the unmanned ROVs Kaikō in 1996 and Nereus in 2009. These three expeditions directly measured very similar depths of 10,902 to 10,916 m.

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