There was a television show back in the nineties called ‘SeaQuest DSV’ (the DSV meant deep sea vehicle). In the near future of 2018, humanity has all but exhausted natural resources on the surface, and now look to the vast oceans to provide a new source of food and energy. Underwater colonies are setup, and the crew of the submarine ‘SeaQuest’ travel the deep blue solving issues and discovering mysteries. The show had a Star Trek feel to it, and included an incredibly smart dolphin that could communicate with the crew. It wasn’t a bad show, but only lasted two and a half seasons.
With NASA getting people fired up to head to Mars, and with Astrophysicists like Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Dr. Stephen Hawking amping up the hype, some people are left wondering why we aren’t headed to into the depths of the oceans? More than 95% of the oceans still remain undiscovered. If there is that much of our own Earth left to discover, why aren’t we hearing more about it?
Right off the bat, it’s worth mentioning the two frontiers aren’t at odds with each other. Money that doesn’t get invested into space exploration isn’t automatically going into deep sea research, that’s not how any government functions. Money is being invested into exploring the oceans, and there are agencies like the NOAA (Nation Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which currently fund the vessel Okeanos, which is the only ship being funded by the United Stated government to map and explore the oceans for the advancement of knowledge.
There’s also a number of oil companies that are consistently mapping out and searching for resources underneath the ocean floors. There is the very good argument, especially after the BP Deepwater Horizon spill that happened in the Gulf of Mexico, that drilling in the ocean is damaging to the ocean’s environment. What you need to remember is that science rarely gets any funding unless there is some sort of profit to be made, or issue to be solved. Space exploration is becoming big again, because there are people who want to monetize the stars. Cancer research funding is incredibly political, and labs across the planet are constantly trying to get more funding, whether it’s from the government, large corporations, or small donations made by people like you and me.
The real boundary for deep sea exploration is the actual physics of going that far under the surface of the ocean. Going to the bottom of the ocean is far more dangerous than going into space. Space exists as a vacuum. Once you’re out there, the strain on the orbiting vessel is constant. With water, every inch you descend, the pressure to the exterior to the submersible increases. The deepest recorded manned vessel was the Trieste at 10,911 metres below sea level, and was accomplished in 1960 by Jacques Piccard and Lieutenant Don Walsh. They explored the Challenger Deep, a part of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans.
The other issue for research and reconnaissance is the lack of light. Light from the surface stops penetrating at a depth of roughly a 1000 metres. Most of the ocean is covered in this depth. To truly observe and collect visual information, high powered lights are required. This poses two problems. The lights aren’t able to look very far underneath the ocean. Even with lighting, sight is reduced to a few metres. As well, the life that exists at these depths isn’t used to light. This could change the behavior of the life at these depths, and render the studies of marine life to be skewed.
We’ve done a pretty good job of mapping the ocean, so we have an understanding of the topography done below. Will we ever colonize the ocean floor, as seen in dozens of sci-fi movies and television shows? Probably not. It’s way too expensive to build and live at the bottom of the ocean. Not to mention how dangerous it is. There’s no point. For anyone hoping to move to Andrew Ryan’s undersea paradise, free from the shackles of government and religion, then I hate to burst your bubble. If the supply of oil starts to dwindle, you can be sure a lot of companies will be sending robotic scouts down there.
Truthfully, I’m hoping people stay away from the depths of the ocean. The last thing our planet needs is a bunch of Kaiju running around.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
p.s. Hey, when you’re writing a post everyday, you can phone it in every now and again.