Wealthy adventurer just became the first person to touch the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

Last week, private equity investor and adventurer Victor Vescovo became the first person to touch the deepest spot in the Atlantic Ocean, 27,480 feet down to the floor of the Puerto Rico Trench, in his custom $35 million Triton submersible, named the Limiting Factor. From Smithsonian:

Vescovo has previously trekked to both the North and South Poles and climbed the highest mountain on each continent, including Mount Everest, a combo known as the “Explorer’s Grand Slam.” But that club is—relatively speaking—a little crowded, with more than 60 people having completed the feat. That’s one reason Vescovo decided to take to the water. The Puerto Rico Trench dive is the first leg of his latest challenge: to reach the lowest spot in each of the world's five oceans. He’s dubbed the feat, inaccessible to anyone without millions of dollars of resources, the “Five Deeps Expedition...."

Through one lens, the trip can be seen as a vanity project for a rich explorer. However, as Ann Vanreusel, head of the research group Marine Biology of Ghent University, tells Erik Stokstad at Science, whatever the motive behind the expedition, it has true scientific value. “[T]here is not any funding agency that would be willing to spend so much money to visit all those areas,” she says.

Indeed, Five Deeps is poised to produce some of the most accurate maps ever of the ocean’s deepest spots and unseen habitats and creatures, aided by the fact that Alan Jamieson, a marine ecologist at Newcastle University and one of the world’s leading experts on the ocean’s depths, is the science leader of the expedition.

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Surprise! It's a submarine!

Submarine emergency ascents are really cool. The soundtrack kind of sucks. I turned it off after a few iterations. Read the rest

Watch a submarine crack through pristine ice in the Arctic Circle

Last week, the United States Navy launched exercises at the new Ice Camp Sargo in the Arctic Circle. Seen above, the nuclear submarine USS Hampton surfaces through the ice. It's a majestic sight, but let's not forget the goal here:

"(This exercise) is our continued commitment to the development of undersea warfare capabilities and tactics in all areas of the world," said Rear Adm. Jeff Trussler, commander, Undersea Warfighting Development Center. "Our superiority in delivering effects in and from the undersea domain to the operational commanders is dependent on the regular exercise and demonstration of these capabilities."

I'd imagine that as the polar ice caps melt, and possible energy reserves are uncovered, the region will quickly become a new battleground. Sadly.

"Navy Submarines Arrive in Arctic for Ice Exercise 2016" (US Pacific Command)

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How a World War II German sub captain used the toilet wrong and sunk his vessel

On April 14, 1945, German captain Karl-Adolf Schlitt took a fancy U-1206 submarine into combat patrol for the first time. The sub had a new high-tech toilet that, according to the War Is Boring blog, "directed human waste through a series of chambers to a pressurized airlock" and "then blasted it into the sea with compressed air, sort of like a poop torpedo." After using the new-fangled crapper Schlitt apparently turned the wrong valve, allowing a backflow of waste and seawater into the sub, and it only got worse from there:

The unpleasant liquid filled the toilet compartment and began to stream down onto the submarine’s giant internal batteries — located directly beneath the bathroom — which reacted chemically and began producing chlorine gas.

As the poisonous gas filled the submarine, Schlitt frantically ordered the boat to the surface. The crew blew the ballast tanks and fired their torpedoes in an effort to improve the flooded vessel’s buoyancy.

Somehow, it got worse when the submarine reached the surface. “At this point in time British planes and patrols discovered us,” Schlitt wrote in his official account.

After taking damage from an air attack, the only option was to scuttle the sub and order the sailors overboard.

"The High-Tech Toilet That Sank a Submarine" Read the rest

Navy: sonar and explosion tests may be harming dolphins, whales

In an environmental impact statement covering future plans for U.S. Navy training and testing, an acknowledgement that the use of sonar and explosives "could potentially hurt more dolphins and whales in Hawaii and California waters than previously thought." (AP) Read the rest

Gentleman builds his own mini-submarine for harvesting sea cucumbers (photo)

Photo: REUTERS

A worker paints a single-seater submarine designed by Zhang Wuyi and his fellow engineers at a shipyard in Wuhan, Hubei province May 7, 2012. Zhang, a 37-year-old local farmer, who is interested in scientific inventions, has made six miniature submarines with several fellow engineers, one of which was sold to a businessman in Dalian at a price of 100,000 yuan ($15,855) last October. The submarines, mainly designed for harvesting aquatic products, such as sea cucumber, have a diving depth of 20-30 metres, and can travel for 10 hours, local media reported. Read the rest

And now, a moment of science fashion

James Cameron. Steve Zissou. What is with submarine explorers and little knit caps? Slate investigates. (Via Miriam Goldstein) Read the rest