Recently there have been a flurry of new reports and renewed interest in the so called “Race to the Marinas Trench”- Challenger Deep.
The program that DOER is pursuing with Sylvia Earle’s SEAlliance, and with research funding provided by Eric Schmidt’s Marine Science Technology Foundation, is called Deepsearch. It is not an experiment or stunt – it is a comprehensive program including the build of two full ocean depth, classed submersibles, the testing infrastructure to support them, along with other deep water equipment testing, and a glass research/development program.
The budget of 40M is for the implementation of the overall program, not just the build of the Deepsearch submersible. Reports that the Deepsearch submersible is 3x as expensive as other designs are inaccurate. The overall program stands to broadly benefit all current research submersibles, experimental craft, landers, ROVs and AUVs through the work DOER is conducting with glass, batteries, floatation, diving profiles, and human factors. The Deepsearch vehicle itself is a scientific platform allowing direct human observation throughout the water column. Because no drop weights are used in normal diving operations, the craft has the ability to stop, hover, transit, sample and perform tasks at any depth one chooses.
A second craft, Ocean Explorer, leverages DOER’s years of subsea experience and the research completed for Deepsearch. The two designs share many common sub assemblies including proven commercial off the shelf and modified off the shelf components. DOER’s Ocean Explorer HOV 1000 replaces the assets recently lost to the scientific community with the retirement of the Johnson Sea Links. The Ocean Explorer HOV Unlimited is a deeper version which will utilize the same glass technology as Deepsearch. While it could achieve full ocean depth, it is primarily intended as a more practical option for depths up to 5000m. Where both Deepsearch and Ocean Explorer can stop, hover, work, and sample, the Deepsearch is designed to transit to very deep working depths quickly, allowing for extended bottom time. Ocean Explorer is better suited for hovering and working around pinnacles, walls, and functioning as an “underwater blind” granting scientists the gift of time at depth – the same way a terrestrial biologist might sit and observe on land.
The fact is that humans have been to the deepest point before and with a great deal less risk than we are seeing in this so called race to the Marianas Trench. If there is a race, it is a race to be the third man. The achievements of Don Walsh, Jacques Piccard and their Trieste team in 1960 were and are monumental feats of engineering. That craft went on to make multiple dives in service to the US Navy. Today we have great advances in materials, testing, computer analysis and more that can be systematically brought to bear in solving the problem of direct human access to the deep ocean, optimizing proven methods and assuring the safety of new materials. The Chinese have taken this approach with their new 7000m rated submersible and given the vast number of hours that have been logged by Jim Cameron in deep water submersibles, many surmise that his team’s approach might be similar. The key is that it takes a team of dedicated professionals including engineers, scientists, technicians, offshore operations, logistics, communications, and IT specialists, import/export experts, and yes, even accountants to pull off the successful design, build and operation of any deep ocean vehicle. It is never about one man.
The process of classing and peer review is another area where the Deepsearch Program is fundamentally different from experimental submersibles. There is much to be learned from experimentation; remarkable breakthroughs have been had via the ” let’s just do it” philosophy inventors sometimes embrace. Yet unless that information is shared and leveraged, it will always be limited in value. By engaging with a peer review body such as Lloyds, ABS, or GL, sub sea vehicles become inherently safer through the discipline of testing, record keeping and safety protocols. Even an experimental craft can be built to meet the intent of class which helps pave the way when a classed build is undertaken. Deepsearch and Ocean Explorer are both classed builds.
The goal of Deepsearch and the larger Deepsearch program is to become a world asset. Because the Deepsearch Program is funded by philanthropic gifts to the SEAlliance www.thesealliance.org, it provides a way for anyone to contribute to the Deepsearch program. Be they billionaires or arm chair explorers, all have the opportunity to be a part of Deepsearch and to make a difference. DOER’s objectives are to honor the past work of others, leverage the advances of the past fifty years, and work to collaborate with others. Already, others are capitalizing on the Deepsearch glass research program as they pursue their own paths. We will observe and learn from these results then apply those lessons.
The SEAlliance is working as well to preserve large areas of ocean as a “blue bank account” assuring protection from destructive, extractive processes and providing hope for the restoration of now depleted fisheries, damaged coral reefs and ravaged sea floors. Science platforms such as Deepsearch and Ocean Explorer allow direct human observation and understanding of these vast unexplored areas. These platforms are complemented by ROVs, AUVs, ocean observing systems and landers, which, while some consider to be safer options, are no substitute for direct human observation. It is the difference between dining at a fine restaurant and watching the same meal being served on television.
The Deepsearch build time line is fluid as it is not a for profit undertaking. Rather, it is a for knowledge undertaking funded through philanthropy and implemented by a passionate team of scientists, engineers, explorers and subsea specialists. We invite you to join the team.
For more information about Deepsearch and the Deepsearch Program, please contact Liz Taylor, President DOER Marine at 510-530-9388 or via email, Liz@doermarine.com