Discoveries in the Deep, Part 1
A Chronology of Undersea Exploration
Pacific Ocean above Juan de Fuca Ridge.
Sir John Ross lowers a line more than a mile into the North Atlantic and
hauls up worms and a large sea star.
Edward Forbes proposes that no substantial life can exist below three
The first transatlantic telegraph cable comes to life, its laying preceded
by deep seabed surveys.
Darwin's Origin of Species implies that the deep is a sanctuary for living
Norwegians haul up from the deep a sea lily, a living fossil previously
found only in rocks 120 million years old.
Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea depicts no life in the
ocean's deepest regions.
British ship Challenger sails the globe while lowering dredges and other
gear into the deep, finding long mountain chains, puzzling nodules, and
hundreds of animals previously unknown to science.
The 'Pompeii' tubeworm, Alvinella pompejana.
Prince Albert of Monaco starts to probe the sea's dark midwaters,
discovering new kinds of eels, fish, and squid.
Alexander Behm sails the North Sea and bounces sound waves off its bottom,
advancing a new method of depth measurement known as echo sounding.
Fritz Haber launches the German Meteor expedition in a bid to extract gold
William Beebe and Otis Barton descend in a tethered sphere to a depth of a
half mile, where they glimpse a previously unseen world of living lights
and bizarre fish.
Fishermen off South Africa pull up an ungainly five-foot fish identified
as a coelacanth, a living fossil thought extinct since the days of the
Coelacanth, the 'fossil fish'.
Auguste Piccard dives in his bathyscaph, the first untethered craft that
carried people into the deep.
Danish ship Galathea lowers dredges into the sea's deepest trenches and
hauls up swarms of invertebrates.
British ship Challenger II bounces sound off the bottom, and near Guam
finds what appears to be the sea's deepest chasm, its lowest point nearly
seven miles down, subsequently named the Challenger Deep.
Marie Tharp, studying echo soundings, discovers that the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge conceals a long rift valley, which turns out to be part of a hidden
volcanic rent that girds the global deep.
Vent in the ocean floor.
Auguste Piccard and his son Jacques enter Trieste, an improved bathyscaph,
and dive to a depth of nearly two miles.
American Navy buys Trieste and begins to strengthen its steel personnel
Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh dive in Trieste to bottom of Challenger
Deep, seven miles down.
American ship off Mexico lowers a pipe through more than two miles of
water and drills into the rocky seabed, a first that advances the fields
of deep geology and mining.
Robert Dietz, studying echo
soundings, proposes that the seabed's mountainous rifts are invisible
scars where molten rock from the Earth's interior wells up periodically
and spreads laterally to form new ocean crust, a process he calls seafloor
Lava mound on the East Pacific Rise.
Thresher, America's most advanced submarine, sinks in waters a mile and a
half deep with the loss of 129 men.
Trieste finds the shattered
hulk of Thresher on the bottom after five months of searching.
American Navy founds the Deep Submergence Systems Project to develop new
gear that can better probe the deep sea's darkness. Navy launches
submersible Alvin, the first piloted craft able to roam the deep with
The submersible Alvin on duty.
Navy tests its first underwater robot.
Navy develops Halibut, a
submarine that can lower miles of cables bearing lights, cameras, and
other gear to spy on enemy armaments and materiel lost on the bottom of
Alvin and Navy robot probe the deep Mediterranean and retrieve a lost
American hydrogen bomb.
Halibut spies on Soviet
warheads abandoned to the deep.
Discoveries in the Deep,
Geologists, after fierce debate, agree that seafloor spreading involves a
dozen or so huge plates that form the Earth's crust and move slowly over
time, rearranging the land.
An undescribed vent anemone with three-foot-long tentacles.
Soviet submarine sinks in the deep Pacific, littering seabed with secret
code books and nuclear warheads.
In stealth, Halibut
examines the lost Soviet sub.
American Navy sub Scorpion
sinks in the Atlantic, killing 99 men and surrendering to the depths two
torpedoes tipped with nuclear arms.
Trieste II, a new Navy bathyscaph, probes the Scorpion's wreckage more
than two miles down and recovers the sub's sextant.
Navy launches first of two piloted craft that hitch rides atop submarines
and dive deep for rescues and espionage.
A bloom of tubeworms.
Navy begins to design a type of tetherless robot, eventually known as the
Advanced Unmanned Search System, for wide hunts of gear lost at depths up
to nearly four miles.
Disguised as a seabed miner, American ship Glomar Explorer lowers a giant
claw to grab a Soviet sub lost on the Pacific floor.
United Nations Law of the
Sea conference proposes to tax seabed miners as a way of enriching poor
French-American team dives
to Mid-Atlantic Ridge and unexpectedly finds its rift valley paved with
Mussels and tubeworms share a vent site.
American team dives in Alvin to a volcanic rift in the Pacific and
discovers warm springs teeming with undescribed species of life, an
ecosystem new to science that includes tubeworms, snakelike creatures
standing upright in long tubes.
American team exploring Gulf of California with Alvin finds mineral
chimneys that blow clouds of black smoke and discharge water hot enough to
Scientists propose that the seabed's hot springs are the birthplace of all
life on Earth.
Venting black smoker chimney.
Ronald Reagan becomes President and begins an arms buildup, including new
classes of deep craft and new kinds of deep espionage.
Volcanic seamounts in Pacific are found to be covered with rare metals,
including cobalt. United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty is finished and
opened for ratification, saying deep minerals belong to the world's
Reagan proclaims Exclusive Economic Zone around the United States,
effectively doubling the nation's size and fueling a burst of exploration
in deep waters.
Robert Ballard tows tethered Navy craft Argo over the Thresher, scanning
the lost sub's corroding wreckage with an array of video cameras.
American researchers diving
off Florida in Alvin discover life swarming in cold springs, another new
kind of deep ecosystem.
Mikhail Gorbachev emerges as
Soviet leader, starting conciliatory East-West policy.
Swarming life at a cold seep on the Louisiana Slope.
Ballard lowers Navy craft Argo and discovers, more than two miles down,
the Titanic, broken in two, many of its fixtures and artifacts scattered
on the icy seabed.
Graham Hawkes's Deep Rover
submersible reveals a riot of midwater life in the depths of Monterey
Canyon, helping inspire billionaire David Packard to fund deep
New Navy robot Jason Junior probes the interior of the Titanic, and in
secret missions explores the twisted wreckage of two sunken American
submarines, Thresher and Scorpion.
The hydrothermal vent known as 'Inferno.'
American firm hires the French Nautile submersible to begin Titanic's
salvage, hauling up thousands of items, including children's marbles and a
First East-West treaty is
signed that reduces nuclear arms.
Treasure hunters searching off South Carolina more than a mile down find
the remains of the Central America, a wooden ship that sank in 1857, heavy
with tons of California gold. Ballard tows Navy craft Argo over
Mediterranean deep and discovers a graveyard of ancient ships, including a
fourth-century Roman craft.
Ballard lowers Argo nearly three miles down in the Atlantic and finds
German battleship Bismarck, a mass of deteriorating guns and fading
Jason, Ballard's top robot
for the Navy, debuts and recovers from the deep Mediterranean dozens of
artifacts from lost Roman ships.
Berlin Wall crumbles.
Crabs scavenge on giant tubeworms.
Navy begins giving civilian researchers wide access to NR-1, a deep-diving
nuclear submarine with lights, windows, and wheels.
Japan finishes Shinkai
6500, the world's deepest-diving piloted craft.
Russians in Mir
submersibles probe Monterey Canyon, one of the first in a wave of
post-cold-war dives for foreign customers.
Discoveries in the Deep,
American Navy agrees to share with civilian scientists a fleet of deep
exploratory craft, including robots and submersibles.
Mir submersibles dive more
than two miles down and film Titianic wreckage for Canadian IMAX movie.
Mir submersible investigates the seafloor.
Yuzhmorgeologiya, which once spied on the submarines of the United States
Navy, is hired by American government to do studies of deep ecology.
Soviet Union ceases to
Scientists, after a large seabed survey, conclude that the deep may hold
ten million species of life, far more than are known on land.
Ballard lowers Navy
submersible Sea Cliff and Navy robot Scorpio to examine fourteen ships
lost during World War Two at the battle of Guadalcanal.
A deep-sea anemone crowns a lava pillar.
CIA director Robert Gates
tells Russian President Boris Yeltsin that Glomar Explorer recovered
remains of six Soviet sailors, who were subsequently buried at sea.
American Navy adopts a new
strategy in which fighting forces target shallow waters and regional
conflicts, reducing the need for deep expertise.
Businessmen hire an
American Navy contractor to dive on Titanic for commercial salvage.
Two American companies unveil laser cameras, formerly secret Navy tools
for seeing long distances in the deep.
Federal scientists listen to
Navy deep microphones and hear a deep volcanic outburst on the Pacific's
Juan de Fuca Ridge, prompting a number of expeditions to study how heat on
the dark seabed can beget a jungle of life.
Map of the Juan de Fuca Ridge.
Japan begins testing Kaiko,
the world's deepest-diving robot.
French submersible Nautile
dives on Titanic to recover artifacts.
Ballard lowers Navy Jason
robot in Celtic Sea to probe the deteriorating remains of Lusitania,
torpedoed by Germany in 1915.
American Navy agrees to share its attack submarines with civilian
scientists for arctic studies.
Navy turns over the
Advanced Unmanned Search System, an early tetherless robot, to private
Shinkai 6500 sets an
Atlantic depth record for a piloted vehicle, studying deep geology.
Russians in Mir submersibles
carry British scientists down to Mid-Atlantic Ridge to study a huge
volcanic mound laced with gold.
Octopus clambers across the sea bottom.
Nautile dives on Titanic to
United Nations Convention
on the Law of the Sea goes into force.
Kaiko dives to bottom of Challenger Deep, finding the icy darkness alive
with small animals.
Paul Tidwell arms himself
with naval spinoffs and finds in Atlantic waters more than three miles
down the lost Japanese submarine I-52, which sank in 1944 heavy with tons
Ballard dives in Navy's NR-1
to map a field of deep Mediterranean wrecks, some more than 2,000 years
A tubeworm community.
Mir submersibles film
Titanic for a Hollywood movie.
American Navy releases
seafloor gravity data, which civilian oceanographers turn into the first
good public map of the global seabed.
broadcasting deep sounds across the Pacific and listening with Navy
microphones for changes in travel time, seeking to measure global warming.
Federal scientists listening to Navy microphones hear fury on the Gorda
Ridge, prompting new studies of seabed volcanism.
The robot Jason, one of the
Navy's top deep projects of the 1980s, makes its debut for a Federal
scientific group, its first expedition probing hot vents on the
Billowing 'smoke' from a deep-sea vent.
Navy widens access to its
deep microphones, prompting the development of private acoustic
observatories meant to listen for volcanic eruptions and whale songs.
The advanced robot Tiburon
debuts at Packard's institute, ready to explore down to a depth of four
kilometers, or two and a half miles.
Nautile dives on the
Titanic to film the shattered hulk and recover artifacts, including a
large section of the liner's hull.
'Deep Flight' on a mission.