Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mariana Trench Depth to Scale

In 2008 I was part of a campaign that successfully lobbied President George W. Bush to designate the 95,000 square mile Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. I try to follow any news about the Mariana Trench and post updates to this blog, like the rumors that James Cameron and Richard Branson are both separately building submarines in an attempt to reach the bottom of the trench sometime in the near future.

This blog post is one of those Mariana Trench updates. Several people alerted me to a graphic making the rounds on the Internet right now that shows the depth of the Mariana Trench to scale and I want to share it with you. I do not know where the graphic originated, but if someone out there in Internetland could send me the source I would like to credit the artist.

Isn't that amazing? Can you imagine what type of life might be down there? Have you seen the movie the Abyss?

And in case you can't read the text on the graphic, here it is again:
0 FT: The black dot is an approximate scale representation of a 6+ foot tall person.

350 FT: Maximum diving depth of a blue whale, the largest known animal on Earth. Large-sized, full grown adult represented on scale.

1250 FT: Height of the Empire State Building. If you were to drop the whole skyscraper into the Mariana Trench, it would be covered with water at this point.

3280 FT: After this point, light can no longer penetrate the water.

5280 FT: One mile under water.

13,120 FT: Beginning of the Abyssal Zone. Water pressure at this level reach (sic) around 11,000 pounds per square inch. Strange, frightening-looking creatures inhabit these depths, such as the Fangtooth, the Flashlight Fish, and the Anglerfish.

20,000 FT: The Hadal Zone. Pressure levels reach 16,000 pounds per square inch, over 1,100 times the amount of pressure on the surface. Although sparse, life exists at these levels.

31,000 FT: Average cruising altitude for a commercial airliner. For those that have viewed the height out of an airplane window, let this be a scale reference.

36,000 FT: The Challenger Deep, lowest point in the ocean. It is believed there are lower undiscovered points, as only around 10% of the ocean has been mapped.
I should point out, however, that the Challenger Deep, the deepest portion of the Mariana Trench lies outside the border of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. Challenger Deep is 180 miles from Fais Island, an outer island of Yap, and 190 miles from Guam, which means that the deepest point of the ocean falls under the jurisdiction of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Furthermore, the most biologically and geologically diverse area of the monument and the only unit within the larger monument that protects a single drop of water or any flora and fauna is the Islands Unit, which is composed of the federal submerged lands and waters surrounding the island of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas. So while the thrill seeker may want to say they dived to the deepest point in the ocean, on the planet in fact, the area of the most interest to science lies hundreds of miles to the north in waters that are deep, but not as deep as Challenger Deep.

All three units of the monument, the Islands Unit, the Volcanic Unit, and the Trench Unit, are interesting and important to science, but I predict that after a round of adventurers dive to Challenger Deep a few times over the next couple of years, they will turn their attention to the Islands Unit because that is where you can see new underwater volcanoes erupting, chemosynthetic bacteria growing on top of photosynthetic coral, and other natural wonders that occur nowhere else on the planet.

1 comment:

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