China’s manned submersible the Fendouzhe, or “Striver”, has successfully reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest underwater valley on the planet. The underwater vehicle spent six hours in the trench and live-streamed footage as it explored the trench on 20 November.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said three researches boarded the submersible, which descended more than 10,000 metres into the submarine trench in the western Pacific Ocean. CCTV has said the submersible can be operated underwater for a total of 10 hours.
Very few people have visited the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a crescent-shaped depression in the Earth’s crust that is deeper than Mount Everest is high. It is also more than 2,550 kilometers long.
In 1960, the world saw the first explorers to visit the trench on a brief expedition. However, following that first attempt there were no other missions conducted for another 52 years until Hollywood director James Cameron made the first solo trip to the bottom in 2012. The director, whose works include films like Aliens (1986) and Avatar (2009), described the bottom of the trench as a “desolate” and “alien” environment. Incidentally, Cameron also made a science fiction film in 1989 called The Abyss that tells the story of a civilian diving team encountering an alien aquatic species deep in the ocean.
The Fendouzhe set a diving record of 10,909 metres for manned deep-sea diving after landing in the deepest known point of the trench, Challenger Deep on 10 November. The submersible beamed up the world’s first live video footage captured from the trench. This was just shy of the 10,927 metre record set by Victor Vescovo, an American explorer in 2019.
Before the latest dive, Chinese researchers have conducted several dives with the submersible to test its capabilities. The underwater craft comes equipped with robotic arms that allow it to collect biological samples from the trench. It also has sonar “eyes” that use sound waves to identify surrounding objects.
The scientists on board the Fendouzhe told CCTV that they have been observing “the many species and distribution of living things on the seabed.” The Fendouzhe project was launched back in 2016 and was worked on by some of the best submersible engineers in China. It is currently the country’s third deep-sea manned submersible.
Even though the water pressure at the bottom of the trench was a crushing eight tons per square inch, which is a thousand times the atmospheric pressure at sea level, scientists have managed to find plenty of life forms in the waters of the trench. CCTV said the scientists on the Fendouzhe will collect specimens from the trench for research.
The Chinese mission is also set to conduct research on “deep-sea materials” as China pushes ahead in deep-sea mining. Beijing has already set up a joint training and research centre with the International Seabed Authority that will train professionals on deep-sea technology as well as conduct research on mining for valuable minerals at the bottom of the ocean.
Zhu Min, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences involved in the mission, was quoted saying it would take more than two trials before they can call the Fendouzhe’s deep-sea mission a real success. But judging from the results of the latest deep-sea excursion, China’s submersible is expected to set standards for future deep-sea vessels.