IMO scientists currently studying the Atacama Trench on board the German research vessel RV SONNE SO261 in the international expedition ERC-HADES have managed to collect plankton and fish samples at the greatest depth in history: 5,157 meters, beating the previous record of 5,100 meters established in the Mariana Trench in 2007.
This great achievement, which certainly marks a historic milestone for global and Chilean oceanography, was possible due to a cutting-edge piece of equipment, the only one in the world that can reach such depths: a large multinet called MOCNESS, which has a number of compartments that open and close through electroacoustic mechanisms, making it possible to take samples at different depths.
Dr. Rubén Escribano, deputy director at the Millennium Institute of Oceanography and professor at the University of Concepción, explained that for oceanographers it is essential not only to have the possibility of reaching the bottom of the ocean, but also of knowing the precise depth at which each species is found and of taking samples of different organisms. “Globally, there is a lot of uncertainty concerning the organisms that live there, their abundance and their distribution at different depths.” Therefore, it is very helpful for experts to have the opportunity of registering the depths at which each species collected lives.
Considering these facts, the exploration of the Atacama Trench carried out by IMO through two scientific expeditions in the last quarter, Atacamex and HERC-HADES, is particularly fascinating; especially when taking into account that measurements have been taken in all the trench’s water column, providing important information about its physical, chemical and biological properties.
These unprecedented samples could lay the foundations for understanding what life in the deep sea is like and how it is possible for it to subsist in the bottom of the sea, where, in spite of extreme conditions, there is intensive biological activity, with a wide variety of species waiting to be discovered. Exploring the sea represents a unique opportunity for Chilean scientists, who, according to Dr. Escribano, "are in front of a vast treasure: an enormous, wide, deep ocean that requires national efforts supporting scientific development, because learning about our ecosystems and taking care and advantage of them is a priority country issue."
For these reasons, since its beginnings, IMO has channeled a large part of its efforts into researching deep-sea ecosystems, especially those located off the Chilean coast, aiming at leading the study of the eastern South Pacific.