The Mariana Trench

Down down down

Just as some lust for the stars others go in the other direction.  

In 1872 the research ship Challenger was commissioned in England with a mandate to explore the oceans. And after traveling 70,000 miles in four years they did that very thing. This voyage established the science of oceanography. They cruised, measured and sampled. Along the way they cataloged over 4,000 species of hitherto unknown plants and animals, the most (excluding microbes) of any voyage ever. They carried a five mile long rope with a weight affixed to the end to plum the bottom using it to draw the first contour maps of the ocean floor; except for one area near the Marianas Islands where they never touched bottom running out of rope at 26,850 feet. They weren’t even close.

The Challenger

If you disconnected Mt. Everest and inverted it into the Challenger Deep (the very deepest point is 35,840) it would sink to the bottom leaving about a mile of water above. This mountain relocation would make the mountain climbers and sherpas very angry so no one is proposing this …so far (Jeff Bezos I’m watching you!).

The trench has been designated a United States National Monument. After China grabs Taiwan watch them go for the U.S. Territory of Guam and the trench too.

In the 1950s, echo sounding established the accurate depth and then, as people do, it was it was time to go for a look-see. 

In the 1930s August Piccard and Paul Kipfer were the first to sail to the Stratosphere at the edge of space at about 10 miles high and they were the first humans to see the curvature of the earth. They went in a pressurized cabin hoisted by a helium baboon. This gave August the idea that he go in the other direction in a pressurized craft.

Paul and August. The aviation agency required crash helmets so they improvised with the seats

So August designed the bathyscaphe, Trieste, in which his son, Jacques, along with Don Walsh, descended to the deepest part of the trench in 1960. (I know I wrote helium baboon but I sort of like the idea). I had a memorable dinner with Don a few years ago.

Jacque’s son is Bertrand Piccard who with André Borschberg were the first to fly around the world in a solar powered plane. These two fellows and I became fast friends when they came through the Bay Area in the Solar Impulse in 2010. André is an aviator’s aviator with 17 world records including the longest solo flight at 117 hours and 52 minutes. (But he didn’t have to wear a facemask over his mouth and nose in the airplane.)

The Trieste descended to the deepest point where water is nearly five times denser than that in your teacup and the psi is 1,071 times that of the surface. This would be like standing an elephant on an area the size of a postcard. For you younger folks a postcard is a well… a sort of text with a stamp. Then, after a few days…oh, never mind. Later I’ll have to explain to my grandchildren what elephants and postcards were.

There have been four other descents to the bottom of the trench. One explorer discovered, as had the others, that there is very little going on six miles below the surface except for plastic bags and candy wrappers.

In space there is an ever expanding collection of extinct satellites and other space debris orbiting at 17,000 mph. Below that in earth’s atmosphere we have an overhead sewer composed of methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide as well as HFCs, PFCs and the list goes on (this is a naturally occurring outcome of the Holocene Epoch [the last 11,700 years]. On land we have a good deal of junkola from toothpicks to leaky drums of chemical toxins.

Add to this the fact that in the last 50 years the ocean has lost over half of its population of sea life replacing it with escaped uncountable Beach Barbies with an equal number tiny floating drinks trays.

At the very bottom of the ocean

In the most remote place on earth

A Snickers wrapper drifts

In the silent dark

So this leads to the inevitable question. How many Fast and Furious films will we be able to see before the lights go out? I’ll put money down on 17 or 18 (there are nine so far). Beyond that I think the future looks a bit hazy.

If we’re gonna get off this rock we are definitely gonna to need a bigger boat.

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