The race to the bottom of the ocean

Posted: 08/10/2011 in all marine news

John Crace – 

Why are Richard Branson and James Cameron, among others, so obsessed with the Mariana trench ?

For the average billionaire, the trouble with the world these days is that it’s just too small. After all, what’s the point of having all that money if you have to share your personal space with the millionaires and chancers who have gatecrashed their way to both poles ?

Even outer space will soon be too crowded. Which is presumably why, before he has even realised his much-hyped Virgin Galactic dream of making a sub-orbital flight, Richard Branson now proposes to explore the depths of the Pacific in Virgin Oceanic.

Branson is not the only one with his eyes on the Challenger Deep, a rocky chasm in the Mariana trench, which marks the world’s deepest money-pit. Film director James Cameron and Google executive chairman Eric A Schmidt are also each spending about £15m building their own submarines capable of withstanding many tonnes of pressure to reach the bottom of the ocean bed.

The Challenger Deep isn’t totally unknown territory. Over the past few decades scientists have sent down unmanned submersibles to photograph the terrain. And very interesting it is too – new types of sea cucumber and other deepwater species have been discovered – though not quite interesting enough for any country to think it worthwhile mounting a manned expedition.

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