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Robot sub reaches the world's deepest abyss

A robotic submarine named Nereus has become the third craft in history to reach the deepest part of the world's oceans, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean.

The dive to Challenger Deep, an abyss within the Mariana Trench that reaches 11,000 metres beneath the waves, was completed on 31 May by a team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Massachussetts, US.

For the expedition, the team had to build a new breed of remotely-operated submarine, called Nereus, which is capable of going deeper than any other while still filming and collecting samples. Sunday's dive makes it the world's deepest-diving vehicle, and the first vehicle to explore the Mariana Trench since 1998.

So far only a single picture taken by Nereus at the bottom of the trench has been released, see image, right.

Vast explorations

"Nereus is like no other deep submergence vehicle," says oceanographer Tim Shank of WHOI.

"It allows vast areas to be explored with great effectiveness. Our true achievement is not just getting to the deepest point in our ocean, but unleashing a capability that enables deep exploration, unencumbered by a heavy tether and surface ship, to investigate some of the richest systems on Earth."

"With a robot like Nereus, we can now explore virtually anywhere in the ocean," adds project manager Andy Bowen.

Third in line

Only two other vehicles have ever reached the bottom of Challenger Deep: US bathyscaphe Trieste, which carried Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh in 1960, and the Japanese robot Kaiko, which made three unmanned expeditions to the trench between 1995 and 1998. Trieste was retired in 1966, and Kaiko was lost at sea in 2003.

"The samples collected by the vehicle include sediment from the subducting and overriding tectonic plates that meet at the trench," says WHOI geologist Patty Fryer.

See a gallery of images about the bathyscaphe Trieste and its creator, Jacques Piccard, whose work on underwater exploration influenced NASA's spacecraft designs.

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Have your say
Comments 1 | 2

Kaiko 7000

Tue Jun 02 19:59:31 BST 2009 by alphachapmtl

Kaiko was lost at sea in 2003, but now there's a new Kaiko 7000II capable of diving to a maximum depth of 7,000m.


Wed Jun 03 01:32:14 BST 2009 by F Heirtzler

Trieste was French, not US-American.


Wed Jun 03 06:33:44 BST 2009 by Roger

Actually it was designed by the Swiss, built by the Belgians, and owned by both the French and the Americans. It was a US possession for the dives.

Air France Black Boxes

Wed Jun 03 01:34:02 BST 2009 by Doug Johnston

The news is saying that the black boxes from the Air France jet that crashed yesterday may not be found because of the depths in the area of the crash.

Why couldn't the "Nereus" be used for this tragedy?


Doug Johnston

Air France Black Boxes

Wed Jun 03 04:25:30 BST 2009 by Dann

The words 'needle' and 'haystack' come to mind.

Air France Black Boxes

Wed Jun 03 05:51:10 BST 2009 by Black box invented by an Aussie

The black box has pinger beacons that emit signals for 30 days, so it can be found. The haystack just got a whole lot smaller. Anyway, the whole point of the balck box was that it's tough as nails, and can be found anywhere

Air France Black Boxes

Wed Jun 03 07:38:57 BST 2009 by Rick Yaw

It was faulty nails which brought the plane down

Air France Black Boxes

Wed Jun 03 11:00:23 BST 2009 by rudi

It has been found now...

Air France Black Boxes

Wed Jun 03 12:16:41 BST 2009 by Dr J

France has already re-tasked its newest research vessel, the "R/V Pourquoi Pas?", to the debris area, with deep submergence vehicles on board. They can cope with the depth; finding something as small as a flight recorder is the challenge, however.

Air France Black Boxes

Thu Jun 04 01:32:40 BST 2009 by JC in NZ

Just a question...

If a plane seems likely to crash, why can't the pilot eject the black box(es) before it does so?

If the black box had a parachute, a flotation collar, and a homing beacon, surely it would be a lot more likely to survive and to be found.

Air France Black Boxes

Thu Jun 04 03:30:52 BST 2009 by Dann

I suspect that in a severe crisis, the last thing a pilot is thinking of is preserving the flight data recorder.

In fact, if I knew there was a system on board with a parachute, a floatation device, and a beacon, I think I'd be heading for it in an emergency!

Comments 1 | 2

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Nereus' specialized manipulator arm samples sediment from the deepest part of the world's oceans, the Mariana Trench (Image: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Nereus' specialized manipulator arm samples sediment from the deepest part of the world's oceans, the Mariana Trench (Image: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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