Scientists descended 8 km deep in the Atacama Trench

Scientists descended 8 km deep in the Atacama Trench

Over the years, Chilean oceanographers Osvaldo Ulloa and Rubén Escribano have envisioned in their conversation what the “exotic” landscape of the Atacama Trench would look like, the impressive crevasses that plunge more than 8,000 meters along the coasts of Chile and Peru, and that No, man had seen it directly.

Uloa and Escribano, director and deputy director, respectively, of the Millennium Institute of Oceanography at Concepcion University in Chile, had resigned themselves to study the Atacama Trench from the surface.

With his team, he mapped part of the topography of the Atacama Trench for the first time. In 2018, during the Atacamax expedition, he took some photographs, videos and collected water and DNA samples of strange creatures living at the bottom of this underworld.

Getting to that depth is, technically, like going to the moon – dreaming of being an eyewitness to your subject has never been an option… at least, until now.

Both scientists landed at the site this year with the expedition of American explorer Viktor Vescovo – who in 2019 became the first to visit the five deepest points of the five oceans while operating a specially built submarine.

Uloa, Escribano and Vescovo are the first humans to descend the Atacama Trench.

Osvaldo Ulloa (right) and Rubén Escribano

Image: Disclosure / Angela Posada

Each of the two trips lasted a total of ten hours, for which the aquanauts literally had to dehydrate the night before, pack warm clothes, and make sandwiches.

On two separate dives, first Uloa and then Escribano rode with Vescovo in a very small titanium sphere covered in a thick protective layer of synthetic foam.

surname limiting factor (Limiting Factor), named after the fictional novels by Ian Banks, is a submarine technological marvel that routinely opens the door to exploration of the so-called hadal zone of the oceans, that is, everything that exists below 6,000 meters. Is. ,

“It was the thrill of my life and the pinnacle of my career as a marine science researcher,” 60-year-old Uloa told BBC Mundo (the BBC’s Spanish service), minutes after that dive and already ” -Mom” came back. Utensil pressure drop,

silence and music under the sea

“The interior of the shell is dark gray, has two comfortable chairs and is lined with an oxygen tank and switch for all the electronics. At the bottom, there are three hatches that allow a view of the ocean floor. I love its sleekness. was affected by the crossing and silence, interrupted only by communication with the surface”.

The descent to the deepest point of the trench – 8,069 meters, according to maps made the day before – took three and a half hours. Uloa thought he would be bored, but between moments of conversation with Vescovo, he ended up listening. music,

Osvaldo Diving - Press Release/Nick Varola/Caladon Oceanic - Press Release/Nick Varola/Caladon Oceanic

Osvaldo Uloa getting ready to dive

Image: Hype / Nick Verola / Caladon Oceanic

Uloa performed a song by Chilean singer-songwriter Manuel García in a duet with Mon Laferte and featured Vescovo photos of their children living in Sweden. In turn, Vescovo chose Tequila Sunrise, from The Eagles, and told him about his motivations for exploring the depths. Amidst the laughter, he decided that when he returned he would have time to watch a part of the Spanish series. el sido, And so it was.

At some point along the way, he ate half a sandwich: tuna for Vescovo and egg salad for Uloa.

Once at the bottom, Vescovo maneuvered the spacecraft over an incredible terrain of canyons, mountain ranges and other rock formations that would bring important information about the geology characteristic of this region of the planet.

“We were also impressed by the large number of sea cucumbers, a species of sea cucumber that was found in other trenches but was present here in much larger quantities,” says Uloa.

“But if there is one thing that I, as a microbiologist, wanted in this expedition, it was to find ‘carpets’ of colonies of microbes. And so seeing them with my own eyes was something extraordinary, of their existence on Earth.” First confirmed Atacama Trench and over 8,000m.

Sea Cucumber - Press Release/Victor Vescovo/Caladan Ocean - Press Release/Victor Vescovo/Caladan Ocean

Image of Holoturia, a species of sea cucumber

Image: Promotions/Victor Vescovo/Kaladan Ocean

“second planet”

For 64-year-old Ruben Escribano, the experience two days later was just as intense.

As his interest in fauna, Vescovo descended only to 7,330 m, exploring the eastern slope of the fossa in search of more abundant fauna.

They encountered unexpected creatures at such depths, such as cold-water corals and a lone starfish. They were able to observe animals present in greater numbers than any other trench studied so far. Polychaete worms, amphipod crustaceans, and other huddle organisms have just begun to be studied.

“They told me we had to study the trench, but they didn’t tell me we had to go there,” joked Escribano, as he exited the submarine and climbed onto the deck.

“It was something magical, like landing on another planet and seeing the structures made by these creatures. I imagined them to be little cities built by insects and crustaceans that carve paths in the sediment.”

Submarine Interior - Reproduction/Nick Verola/Caldan - Reproduction/Nick Verola/Caldan

Uloa and Bishop inside the submarine limiting factor

Image: reproduction / Nick Verola / Kaladan

The Atacama Hadal Expedition also produced high-resolution maps of several sections of the Atacama Trench, which at 5,900 kilometers in length, is one of the longest rifts in the deep ocean. A formidable structure that rises above where the Nazca Plate sinks beneath South America, causing earthquakes and tsunamis in the region.

Maps will play a key role in determining the ideal location to install sensors for a future project to establish the first ocean-mounted observation system, a Titanic effort under construction by the Chilean scientific community.

How the study of the physical, geochemical and biological conditions present in the region over time will provide a scientific basis that can ultimately be used to observe the effects of climate change at greater depths. and to better understand the processes that lead to major earthquakes and tsunamis in the region.

“We had unparalleled access to Chile’s advances in oceanography and I am confident this achievement will inspire new generations,” Uloa said.

For its part, Vescovo says it is committed to the effort to continue mapping thousands of square kilometers per month to support the GEBCO 2030 initiative, which seeks to complete mapping of the entire sea floor by 2030.

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