James Cameron Donates His Deepsea Challenger Sub to Woods Hole

Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron emerges from the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible after his successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. Photo: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron emerges from the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible after his successful solo dive to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean. Photo: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Marking the one-year anniversary of his record breaking solo dive to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, explorer and filmmaker James Cameron is donating his DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the name of science.

This week Cameron and WHOI announced the formation of a partnership aimed at accelerating advances in technology development, ocean research and discovery following the 2012 Cameron-led DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition.

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible is the centerpiece of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific project by explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. Photo: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible is the centerpiece of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific project by explorer and filmmaker James Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. Photo: Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

On March 26, 2012, Cameron made the unprecedented solo dive to Challenger Deep, reaching 35,787 feet below the surface of the ocean in his vertically-deployed DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible that he and his team engineered.

As part of the partnership, Cameron will transfer the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER to Woods Hole, where WHOI scientists and engineers will work with Cameron and his team to incorporate the sub’s numerous engineering advancements into future research platforms and deep-sea expeditions.

“The seven years we spent designing and building the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER were dedicated to expanding the options available to deep-ocean researchers. Our sub is a scientific proof-of-concept, and our partnership with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a way to provide the technology we developed to the oceanographic community,” says Cameron. “WHOI is a world leader in deep submergence, both manned and unmanned. I’ve been informally associated with WHOI for more than 20 years, and I welcome this opportunity to formalize the relationship with the transfer of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible system and science platform. WHOI is a place where the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system will be a living, breathing and dynamic program going forward.”

“Jim’s record-breaking dive was inspirational and helped shine a spotlight on the importance of the deep ocean,” says Susan Avery, president and director of WHOI. “We face many challenges in our relationship with the ocean, so there is heightened urgency to implement innovative approaches. Partnerships such as this one represent a new paradigm and will accelerate the progress of ocean science and technology development.”

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system demonstrated the effectiveness of a human-piloted vehicle as a science platform to help explore the deepest and some of the least explored environments on earth, ocean trenches. The system incorporated innovative solutions to some of the challenges of accessing the oceans depths, including flotation, energy storage, camera and lighting systems that enabled Cameron to gather data, samples, and imagery in order to maximize science value from the expedition, WHOI said in a statement.

“Jim and his team saw challenges and overcame them with forward, innovative thinking. The technological solutions they developed for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER system can be incorporated into other human-occupied and robotic vehicles, especially those used for deep-sea research,” says Avery. “We plan to make that happen.”

WHOI envisions a wide-range of uses for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER and hopes it will bring value to research programs in ocean trenches.

For example, WHOI says its scientists plan to use the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER’s cameras and lighting systems on the Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle Nereus, which dove to the Mariana Trench in 2009 and will return to trenches in the Atlantic and the Pacific during the next two years. Using these systems, Cameron was able to capture high-resolution 3D images of geological processes and species in the Challenger Deep during 13 piloted dives and 19 lander deployments.

WHOI says that the full spectrum of applications for these new technologies has yet to be determined, as it will take scientists and engineers some months to fully document the system’s component technologies after the sub’s scheduled arrival in Woods Hole early this summer.

WHOI recently launched the Center for Marine Robotics (CMR), a novel collaborative model that enhances the development of robotic technologies by bringing together partners from academia, the federal government, and the private sector. The CMR’s scientists and engineers will revolutionize the way people and machines work together in the marine environment and enable new approaches to complex scientific challenges. Jim Cameron will serve on the Center’s Advisory Board.

“We are delighted that Jim has agreed to join the Center’s Advisory Board, a group distinguished by its members’ deep experience and commitment to ocean science,” says Avery. “By virtue of much of his work in the ocean, he is in a perfect position to provide fresh perspectives on the challenges we face. It’s just one manifestation of the kind of sustained partnership developing between WHOI and the Cameron team.”

More about the partnership can be found at the WHOI website, HERE