Monday, March 26, 2012

Voyage to the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea...

Over the weekend, film director James Cameron got in a submarine specially built to withstand the intense pressures of the bottom of the sea and took a ride to the deepest known point on Earth, the Challenger Deep. It took him two and half hours to get to the spot, seven miles down, and he stayed for almost three hours, taking samples, photos and video to bring back to scientists on the surface. He is only the third person ever to reach Challenger Deep, the other two having done so in a two-man sub back in 1960. He is the first to make the trip alone. He made the dive with the cooperation (and, I suspect, the money) of the National Geographic Society, for a documentary he is apparently making with them.

I'm not sure what to think about this.

On the one hand, it proves that the man has guts. It was a dangerous thing to do, and he did it and survived. A million things could have gone wrong, and most of them would probably have meant a watery grave for him and his submarine. The dark so far below the surface of the ocean is profound, and the pressures immense. To have gone and returned is an amazing accomplishment. To have done it alone, in a small submersible, down in the dark and silence...I have no words.

But, while he is apparently not inexperienced in making deep-sea dives like this (from what I understand, he made about a dozen dives while making the film "Titanic", and has made others since then), Cameron is not a scientist. And there is a big part of me that believes that it should be qualified scientists doing things like this, to get the most benefit of new knowledge from this place that is so difficult and dangerous to visit that only three people have done it over the space of a bit over half a century.

I guess I envy him a bit, as well, truth be told. He has seen a place that almost no one else has seen, ever. That is a huge, amazing thing. It's like (and he compared it to) going into space, considering that the bottom of the ocean is such an alien place and completely hostile to terrestrial life. It must have been truly amazing to be able to do what he has done. Must be nice to have the money and clout to do things like that.

I'm glad this dive went well for Cameron. I keep thinking of the many things that could have gone wrong. As it is, he had to return to the surface after only half the time he had been scheduled to stay at the bottom of the bottom of the ocean due to what were reported to be difficulties with the sub's hydraulics system.

But, other than the few samples and the pictures he brought back, I wonder exactly how valuable this event really was. If it leads the way to more visits to the area, and to the gathering of more knowledge of the planet we live on, it is a good thing. I will be disappointed if it turns out that it was mostly a publicity stunt, with little or no real knowledge gained in the process.


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