Marine scientists are always seeking to unravel our oceans’ mysteries. Reaching the depths of an oceanic trench is a challenging and expensive task, only comparable to the difficulty of conducting space missions. The fascination for the ocean and the species inhabiting it developed by authors such as Julio Verne invites us to dream of worlds unreachable for humankind.
Nevertheless, current state-of-the-art technology has brought us nearer and nearer to fulfilling the dream of discovering more about this inhospitable environment. With this end in view, the Millennium Institute of Oceanography embarked on a new international scientific expedition, led by European scientists working along Asian, American and Chilean researchers in order to continue exploring and studying one of the least-known ecosystems in the eastern South Pacific: the Atacama Trench.
After the successful Atacamex expedition, during which IMO marked a historic milestone as it descended into the trench’s depths and established a record depth of 8,081 meters, a group of IMO researchers joined the expedition ERC-HADES. They are working on board the modern German research vessel RV SONNE SO261 and seeking to continue increasing the knowledge about the world’s longest oceanic trench.
For this scientific expedition, IMO is in charge of collecting physical, chemical and biological information about all the layers of the water column, which will be helpful to study and analyze living conditions in this hostile, unknown habitat surprisingly full of life, with a rich species diversity.
IMO, as a center of excellence in research, possesses cutting-edge technology required to achieve this purpose. In this particular case, two unique pieces of equipment in the Southern Cone have made it possible to take pictures and collect samples of several species inhabiting the ultra-deep sea, which will be subsequently studied in the laboratory. One of these pieces of equipment is the lander Audacity, the only autonomous unmanned free-fall vehicle that can descend into depths of more than 8,000 meters; this lander also has a large multinet (MOCNESS) allowing the collection of many new organisms.
Uncovering the deep sea’s secrets is a difficult, enormous challenge for marine science because it requires to deal with problems such as high pressures. Therefore, Dr. Rubén Escribano, deputy director at the Millennium Institute of Oceanography and professor at the University of Concepción, explained: “Reaching depths of more than 8,000 meters is an achievement of global significance demanding international recognition for Chilean oceanography and placing Chile at the forefront of global ocean exploration.”
In this connection, the significant findings from the expeditions Atacamex and ERC-HADES confirm the importance of studying this marine ecosystem, which is the last natural frontier of Chile, a maritime country with a coastline of more than 4,000 kilometers in need of more institutional efforts for the implementation of policies supporting exploration and oceanographic research.
Ultimately, IMO is contributing to uncover these secrets through its able, experienced researchers and oceanographic expeditions to improving the quality of intensive in-depth research on the ocean.