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Mysteries of the Mariana Trench

Updated on December 22, 2015
Deep Sea Angler Fish
Deep Sea Angler Fish

Tremendous Pressure


More is known by the scientific community about outer space than the oceans on our own planet. This is because of the tremendous pressure exerted on any object attempting to submerge to the great depths needed for further exploration.

The Mariana Trench is the deepest known part of any ocean. It is in the western Pacific Ocean near the Mariana Islands, close to Japan. The deepest part of the trench, at a depth of about 7 miles, called Challenger Deep, was named after the exploratory vessel HMS Challenger II, a fishing boat converted into a sea lab by Swiss scientists.

There have been numerous scientific expeditions to record the depth and study the trench. The trench was first sounded during December 1872 to May 1876 by the first Challenger expedition. The most recent, as of this writing, was in June 2009 using sonar mapping by the Simrad EM120 sonar multibeam bathymetry system for deep water.

Jellyfish In The Mariana Trench
Jellyfish In The Mariana Trench

How Deep The Trench Is

It’s difficult to imagine how deep the trench actually is. To visualize it, imagine placing Mount Everest inside the trench. There would still be over a mile to reach the surface! The water pressure would be equivalent to about 5 jumbo jets stacked upon top of you. Or about 16000 pounds per square inch.

However, in spite of these facts life has been found there, mostly in the form of single celled organisms. Deep sea research is important because it’ envelopes a huge portion of the planets’ biosphere and so little is known. Life at these incredible depths, temperatures, lack of light and pressures, has had to adapt to the harsh conditions.


Viper Fish
Viper Fish

Light Organs

Some deep sea creatures are entirely colored black and have light organs called photophores on their bodies. It’s believed they attract the fish they prey upon. Some don't have any color at all making them transparent. The light organs create light by a chemical process called bioluminescence.

Other fish, such as the gulper eel, have a hinged skull. This enables the creature to rotate their head upward to swallow large prey. Their large stomachs can stretch to allow it to digest a fish much larger than itself. Fish existing at these extreme depths must adapt to a low food supply, eating only what sinks down to them from above. Sometimes it becomes necessary to eat each other.


The physical characteristics of the deep are issues deep sea life must contend with to survive. Light, pressure, temperature, oxygen and food have all led to fascinating adaptions. There are some wicked looking fish lurking in these depths. Most have enlarged eyes, to gather as much light as possible because there is little or no light at all. Biologists theorize their vicious looking teeth and jaws were adapted to live in an environment where food is scarce. The strong jaws ensure that prey has no way to escape.

Lack of light also creates a barrier to reproduction. Bioluminescent light is also used to attract mates. Deep sea creatures also often possess a powerful sense of smell to detect chemicals released into the water by potential mates.

Pressures inside fish living this deep are the same as those outside, so they aren’t crushed. These creatures would quickly die if brought to the surface as the cells inside their bodies would promptly burst.

The deep sea was largely unexplored up until recent times. But new technologies and advances in deep sea submersibles along with better imaging devices are allowing marine biologists to better study the mysteries of the deep ocean realm.

The deep cold waters are also oxygen-poor. Therefore, life there requires little oxygen. The creatures that make their home there have some fascinating biological mechanisms. Because of the lack of light, food is scarce in these sectors. Some food comes from decaying plants and animals from the upper regions. Bodies of deceased animals sinking to the bottom also provide meals which are quickly consumed by a variety of species.

The deep sea is inhabited by jawless fish such as the lamprey and hagfish, which burrow into carcasses and consume them from the inside. Energy isn’t usually expended swimming in search of nourishment. They prefer to remain in one place and ambush their prey.

Life is comparatively sparse in the deep with one exception … hydrothermal vent communities. This discovery occurred in 1976 during a deep sea expedition near the Galapagos Islands. Dives to depths of about 2,700 km led to the discovery of an ecosystem where marine life thrived at deep depths without sunlight.

The water near these hydrothermal communities is much warmer than average for this depth. The warmer water comes from geysers heated by magma beneath the earth's crust. Metal sulfides spewed through the vents form chimneys which becomes home to a variety of sea life.

The Mariana Trench has been proposed as a site for disposing of nuclear waste.The solution is technically feasible, but is barred by international law.

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    • tom_caton profile image

      Tom Caton 6 years ago from The Desk

      interesting and well written hub!

    • earthbound1974 profile image

      earthbound1974 6 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      Deep Sea creatures are unique. Why would they dump nuclear waste on this Marianas trench? Good thing international laws on waters prohibits it. Thanks for the info. :D

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thanks for all of your great comments!

    • gg.zaino profile image

      greg g zaino 6 years ago from L'America- Big Pine Key, Florida

      Hey JY... Do you happen to know how many pounds per square centimeter, of square inch the water pressure would exert on these creatures at such depths?

      Thank you for the time and investigation.

      peace - gregZ

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      it's 16000 pounds per square inch

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Absolutely amazing information. Superior writing skills...incredible research and communication skills, JY! I always reading your hubs. You must have excelled during your time in the education system. What a beautiful and mysterious ecosystem you've introduced many of us to. Thank you!

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Awwww, shucks mamm

    • Five One Cows profile image

      Five One Cows 6 years ago from Moo Town

      Very interesting hub, and I will be sure to read more on this topic.

    • profile image

      Sam 5 years ago

      great job, but what would more of the equipment used be?

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I don't understand the question Sam.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      Very interesting.

    • bmcoll3278 profile image

      bmcoll3278 5 years ago from Longmont, Colorado

      I used you hub for some of my research on my hub. Thanks for writing a great hub voted up!! I also linked to it from my hub.

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      That's OK bmcoll. Glad you found it useful. But if you get an F from your teacher...don't blame me. LOL

    • profile image

      thebigweirdo 5 years ago

      thanks this really help with my science project:):):):)

    • profile image

      Len 4 years ago

      wonderful,good job

    • profile image

      anonymouse 4 years ago

      i think there should be more pictures

    • JY3502 profile image
      Author

      John Young 22 months ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Well, When I hit 6 and 1/2 miles deep my ears started hurting and I had to come back up. Besides, I was out of film.

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