September 24, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Forget space.  There are still parts of our Earth that have yet to be explored. In the depths of our oceans are animals that are not only new to science but that no human has ever seen before.

Scientists know relatively little about the inhabitants of the deep sea.

Most animals that have evolved to live in its dark, crushing pressure are not capable of surviving outside of it. This combined with the difficulty and expense involved in reaching these environments has meant that scientific research has been frustratingly limited.

But this could all be about to change. Scientists from the University of California, the University of Hawaii and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute are partnering with Virgin Oceanic on a mission to send a manned submarine into the deepest trenches of the seabed.

Richard Branson released a mission statement last Tuesday that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Jules Verne novel. Starting later this year, the Five Dive Expedition will begin. These five dives will involve sending human pilots into the deepest points of the five oceans.  The first will be into the Mariana Trench, where the submarine will go 10,971m into the deep, and then 10km along its length. The aim is to map, survey, and sample the surroundings, giving scientists access to unexplored areas of the ocean.

Not only that, but we will be able to go with them. Google Earth has partnered up with the expeditions and the submersible will be feeding data back into the software to create a 3D map of the ocean trenches. The BBC is also going with them to film the expedition, so whatever they find; we’ll get to see it too.

What could they actually find down there? The conditions of the deep sea have produced some extraordinary animal adaptations and it is highly likely that the dives will find unknown species. To give you an idea of the kinds of animals we know already exist in the oceans, here are three of my favourite deep sea creatures. With an eye on these, who knows what else they might find down there:

The Vampire Squid – Its Latin name means “Vampire Squid from Hell”
The Barreleyed Fish – Yes, it has a transparent head
The Blobfish