Explorer and Filmmaker James Cameron Gives DEEPSEA CHALLENGER Sub to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Forms partnership with WHOI to accelerate technology development, ocean research and discovery
Explorer and filmmaker James Cameron and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have formed a partnership to stimulate advances in ocean science and technology and build on the historic breakthroughs of the 2012 Cameron-led DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition exploring deep-ocean trenches. The announcement comes on the one-year anniversary of Cameron’s unprecedented solo dive to 35,787 feet, almost 11,000 meters, to the deepest place on Earth—the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench—in the vertically-deployed vehicle he and his team engineered, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible system and science platform.
Cameron will transfer the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER to Woods Hole, where WHOI scientists and engineers will work with Cameron and his team to incorporate the sub’s numerous engineering advancements into future research platforms and deep-sea expeditions. This partnership harnesses the power of public and private investment in supporting deep-ocean science.
“The seven years we spent designing and building the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER were dedicated to expanding the options available to deep-ocean researchers. Our sub is a scientific proof-of-concept, and our partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a way to provide the technology we developed to the oceanographic community,” says Cameron. “WHOI is a world leader in deep submergence, both manned and unmanned. I’ve been informally associated with WHOI for more than 20 years, and I welcome this opportunity to formalize the relationship with the transfer of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible system and science platform. WHOI is a place where the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system will be a living, breathing and dynamic program going forward.”
“Jim’s record-breaking dive was inspirational and helped shine a spotlight on the importance of the deep ocean,” says Susan Avery, president and director of WHOI. “We face many challenges in our relationship with the ocean, so there is heightened urgency to implement innovative approaches. Partnerships such as this one represent a new paradigm and will accelerate the progress of ocean science and technology development.”
The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system demonstrated the effectiveness of a human-piloted vehicle as a science platform for investigating the deepest part of the ocean. Due to the extreme pressures of these deep-sea environments and the technical challenges involved in reaching them, ocean trenches are among the least explored environments on the planet. The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system incorporated innovative solutions to some of the challenges of accessing the oceans depths. Among several of the significant innovations are approaches to flotation, energy storage, camera and lighting systems that enabled Cameron to gather data, samples, and imagery in order to maximize science value from the expedition.
“Jim and his team saw challenges and overcame them with forward, innovative thinking. The technological solutions they developed for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system can be incorporated into other human-occupied and robotic vehicles, especially those used for deep-sea research,” says Avery. “We plan to make that happen.”
WHOI envisions a range of uses for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system that will bring value to research programs in ocean trenches. For example, WHOI scientists plan to use the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER's cameras and lighting systems on the Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle Nereus, which dove to the Mariana Trench in 2009 and will return to trenches in the Atlantic and the Pacific during the next two years. These systems enabled Cameron to capture high-resolution 3D images of geological processes and species in the Challenger Deep during 13 piloted dives and 19 lander deployments. The full spectrum of applications for these new technologies has yet to be determined - it will take scientists and engineers some months to fully document the system’s component technologies after the sub’s scheduled arrival in Woods Hole early this summer.
Recognizing the power of new technologies, like those embodied in the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system, to explore and understand the ocean, WHOI recently launched the Center for Marine Robotics (CMR), a novel collaborative model that enhances the development of robotic technologies by bringing together partners from academia, the federal government, and the private sector. The CMR’s scientists and engineers will revolutionize the way people and machines work together in the marine environment and enable new approaches to complex scientific challenges. Jim Cameron will serve on the Center’s Advisory Board.
“We are delighted that Jim has agreed to join the Center’s Advisory Board, a group distinguished by its members’ deep experience and commitment to ocean science,” says Avery. “By virtue of much of his work in the ocean, he is in a perfect position to provide fresh perspectives on the challenges we face. It's just one manifestation of the kind of sustained partnership developing between WHOI and the Cameron team.”
James Cameron has logged more than 3,000 hours underwater, is a veteran of 85 submersible dives, most of them to depths greater than two miles, and of eight oceanographic expeditions. Beginning with his film The Abyss in 1989, Cameron has advanced underwater cinematography and robotics during the production of numerous features and marine documentaries. In 1995, he made 12 manned-submersible dives to the Titanic wreck for his movie of the same name, which won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and broke the record for global box office. (Titanic’s earnings have only been surpassed by Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar, still the box office leader.) In May 2002, Cameron piloted his robotic cameras inside the wreck of the DKM Bismarck, at a depth of 16,000 feet, for the documentary Expedition Bismarck. He has continued to evolve and improve on innovations in fiber-optic-spooling mini-ROV's, deep-ocean lighting and photographic technologies for subsequent underwater documentaries including Ghosts of the Abyss in 2003, Aliens of the Deep in 2005 and the forthcoming DEEPSEA CHALLENGE 3D. The film utilizes and builds on the 3D technology and camera
systems Cameron and engineering partner, Vince Pace, developed in 1999 and that form the basis of their 3D technologies and services company, the CAMERON | PACE Group.
Cameron is an Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic and a member of the Deep Submersible Pilots Association. He has contributed to a number of robotic space exploration projects and, for three years, served on the NASA Advisory Council. Cameron is the founder of the Avatar Alliance Foundation, a non-profit aimed at addressing climate change, the destruction of the natural world and the loss of indigenous land and culture.
DEEPSEA CHALLENGE is a joint scientific expedition by James Cameron, the National Geographic Society, and Rolex. Learn more at deepseachallenge.com.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. WHOI operates the National Deep Submergence Facility, which operates deep sea exploration vehicles for the benefit of the entire US oceanographic community and includes the human occupied vehicle Alvin, the remotely operated vehicle Jason and the autonomous vehicle Sentry. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit www.whoi.edu.