James Cameron Donates Deepsea Challenger To Science

By Pierre Dumont , Mar 26, 2013 11:54 AM EDT

Director James Cameron has donated the Deepsea Challenger, the one-man underwater vehicle he used to dive to the deepest ocean on Earth, to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the biggest oceanographic research institution in the U.S.

Cameron made the announcement on the one-year anniversary of his voyage down to the Mariana Trench, a deep chasm located 35,787 feet below the surface, where previously unknown bacterial life was just discovered. WHOI won't just be showcasing the innovative submersible, however. Woods Hole will be putting it to good use, using parts of the machine as add-ons for other submersible vehicles.

"The seven years we spent designing and building the Deepsea Challenger were dedicated to expanding the options available to deep-ocean researchers," Cameron commented in a Woods Hole press release. "Our sub is a scientific proof-of-concept, and our partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a way to provide the technology we developed to the oceanographic community."

Among the features that WHOI plans to borrow from the Deepsea Challenger are the vehicle's cameras and lighting systems, which it plans to replicate for the Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle Nereus. The Nereus surveyed the Mariana Trench in 2009 and is planning to explore trenches in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans over the course of the next two years. In light of the possibilities presented by vehicles like the Deepsea Challenger, WHOI initiated the Center for Marine Robotics (CMR), a scientific partnership for robotic technology that includes the government, academics and those in the private sector. Cameron will serve on the center's advisory board.

"Jim's record-breaking dive was inspirational and helped shine a spotlight on the importance of the deep ocean," says president and director of WHOI Susan Avery. "We face many challenges in our relationship with the ocean, so there is heightened urgency to implement innovative approaches. Partnerships such as this one represent a new paradigm and will accelerate the progress of ocean science and technology development."

It took Cameron two hours and 36 minutes to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench during his dive last year, where he spent several hours exploring what he later called an "alien and barren terrain." He was the first person to reach the bottom of the trench in 50 years, and the only one to do so by himself. Previous explorers included U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. 3D images captured during Cameron's voyage will be featured in a National Geographic film to come out later this year.

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