China’s Deep Dive! Unmanned Submersibles Reach the Hadal Zone –“Deeper Than Mount Everest, Preview of Jupiter’s Ocean-Moon Europa”

 

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In 2011, international team of microbiologists of the Microbiology of Extreme Environments Laboratory in partnership with the Institute of Oceanography of Xiamen (China) and the Earth Science Laboratory discovered a new species of archaebacteria, Pyrococcus CH1,discovered thriving on a mid-Atlantic ridge within a temperature range of 80 to 105°C and able to divide itself up to a hydrostatic pressure of 120 Mpa (1000 times higher than the atmospheric pressure).


The piezophilic microorganisms constitute a subgroup of extremophiles. Discovered on the site “Ashadze”(2) at 4100 meters depth, the deepest vent field explored so far, the CH1 strain was successfully isolated and assigned to the genus Pyrococcus, within the Euryarchaeota lineage of the Archae domain. The discovery extended the known physical and chemical limits of life on Earth.

The reason scientists believed for so long that life did not exist in the deepest parts of the sea is because the oxygen that filters down is centuries old, having formed near the surface through photosynthesis by microscopic plants known as phytoplankton. In the "hadal" zone, which at 11,000 m is deeper than Mount Everest is high – the pressure rises to 1,000 bar, or a ton per square centimeter. And as there is practically no light, plants cannot grow, so there is little food.

Fast forward to today, Cui Weicheng, director of Hadal Life Science Research Center at Shanghai Ocean University, led a team of researchers to carry out research at the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s ocean. Three Chinese unmanned deep-sea devices descended over 10,000 meters underwater and successfully completed sea tests in the Pacific Ocean marking a major step in the country’s deep-sea research, researchers said.

 

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Four years ago, Cui Weicheng, riding inside China’s Jiaolong submersible shown above reached a depth of more than 7,000 meters in the Pacific’s Mariana Trench. “It’s rather desolate down there — but strangely beautiful,” says Cui, who led the submersible project.

 

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Thanks to Jiaolong, China is now one of only a handful of nations that have the capability to explore the deep sea. Jiaolong, which is named after a mythical sea dragon, can travel deeper than any other manned research submersible currently in operation — allowing the country to reach more than 99.8% of the ocean floor.

The most recent group left December 3, 2016 on Zhang Jian, a research vessel and mother ship of the Rainbow Fish series, and included three deep-sea landing devices, one unmanned search submersible and a manned submersible, all capable of diving 10,000 metres.

From December 25-27, three deep-sea landing devices descended into the trench, Cui told state-run Xinhua news agency. The first Rainbow Fish landing device took photographs, the second took sediment samples and the third took biological samples, Cui said.

All three submersibles reached over 10,000 meters, and the third device brought back 103 amphipods, Cui said.
The Rainbow Fish project is a mobile lab co-funded by the state and private capital. “The successful sea test marks another step in China’s deep-sea research,” Cui said.

Globally, there are 26 hadal trenches, defined as those with depths of 6,500 meters or more. They are home to many unknown species as well as energy and metal resources. In August, China’s unmanned submersible “Haidou-1” dived to a depth of 10,767 meters at the Mariana Trench, setting a new Chinese record.

China became the third country after Japan and the US to build submersibles capable of reaching depths in excess of 10,000 meters. Scientists forecast China will have a manned submersible capable of descending to 10,000 meters by 2019 or 2020, the report said.

“This symbolizes China’s increasing ambition — and leadership — in deep-sea research,” says Jian Lin, a marine geophysicist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Until recently, China’s ocean research focused largely on coastal and offshore waters. But, driven by a growing desire for resources and a stronger position in international disputes over marine regions, it is stepping up its support for scientific programs in the deep ocean.

Pyrococcus CH1 is only one on many examples of extremophilic microorganisms on our planet, all of which point vividly to what we might eventually discover as NASA's future probes explore the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

Extremophiles are the ultimate adventurers. These organisms thrive where other microbes don’t dare venture: boiling water holes, freezing lakes, and toxic waste dumps. Researchers have sequenced the genomes of two extremophiles that live at the bottom of Ace Lake in Antarctica, where there is no oxygen and the average temperature is a brutal 33 degrees below Fahrenheit.

Extraterrestrial life is the most interesting thing ever, bar nothing. We have two possible life-locations right here on our solar system doorstep – but we have to choose which to check. We want to go everywhere, but with a price-tag of billions of dollars per outer-planet probe we have to decide and flipping a coin just won't cut it.

Option Number One is Jupiter's Europa, the favored satellite son of many exobiologists and even Arthur C. Clarke himself. While distinctly non-Terran, huge sub-surface lakes probably heated by tidal stresses, and even an extremely tenuous oxygen atmosphere make it a leading contender.

The Daily Galaxy via nature.comindianexpress and wwz.ifremer.fr

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