Off the Deep End

The Mariana Trench is the deepest point on Earth.  The trench is over 35,000 ft. deep!  If Mount Everest was dropped into the trench, Mt. Everest’s highest peak would still be over a mile underwater!

The trench is created when the Pacific Plate and the Mariana Plate push together and the Pacific Plate is pushed beneath the Mariana Plate.

Because of its extreme depth, the Mariana Trench is cloaked in perpetual darkness and the temperature is just a few degrees above freezing. The water pressure at the bottom of the trench is a crushing eight tons per square inch—or about a thousand times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level.

The first and only time humans descended into the Challenger Deep (the deepest point of the trench) was more than 50 years ago.   In 1960, Jacques Piccard and Navy Lt. Don Walsh reached this goal in a U.S. Navy submersible, a bathyscaphe called the Trieste. After a five-hour descent, the pair spent only a scant 20 minutes at the bottom and were unable to take any photographs due to clouds of silt stirred up by their passage.

In recent years, deep-ocean dredges and unmanned subs have glimpsed exotic organisms such as shrimp-like amphipods, and strange, translucent animals called holothurians. But scientists say there are many new species awaiting discovery and many unanswered questions about how animals can survive in these extreme conditions. Scientists are particularly interested in microorganisms living in the trenches, which they say could lead to breakthroughs in biomedicine and biotechnology.

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