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Diving into the abyss: What lies in the ocean's depths?

Over 600 people have traveled to space, but only 22 brave souls have ventured to the enigmatic depths of the ocean floor.
Diving into the abyss: What lies in the ocean's depths?
Posted at 6:11 AM, Jun 22, 2023

As the search intensifies for the submersible that lost contact with its mother ship on Sunday as it descended to the wreck of the Titanic, many are wondering how deep the ocean is and what exactly lies at the bottom of it.

While we do know that the deepest part of the ocean, called the Challenger Deep, is nearly 36,000 feet deep, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a staggering truth: Our knowledge of the ocean floor is overshadowed in comparison to what we know about the surfaces of the moon and Mars.

For context, as of last summer, only 23.4% of the ocean was mapped, which is about 46 million square miles, or about three times the moon’s total surface area (14.6 million square miles) and closer to Mars’ surface area of nearly 56 million square miles. The entire surface of both the moon and Mars has been mapped.

SEE MORE: Retired sub commander: Noises in submersible search are "encouraging"

Furthermore, while over 600 individuals have traveled to space, only 22 brave souls have ventured to the enigmatic depths of the Challenger Deep. 

The Challenger Deep is the lowest point in the Mariana Trench and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean. 

In order to grasp the magnitude of these facts, consider that the Titanic was discovered at a depth of 12,600 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Now compare that to the astonishing depth of the Challenger Deep, which is nearly three times deeper than the Titanic's resting place.

If you were to put Mount Everest in the Challenger Deep, it would still lie under more than 1.2 miles of water and be covered in absolute darkness.

So, what exactly would we find there if we were to complete that journey?

The Twilight Zone

Most ocean life lives above a depth of 650 feet; the area of the ocean between 650 feet and 3,300 feet is called the Mesopelagic zone, or twilight zone, where the light is gone and the temperature has dropped dramatically.

Astonishingly, approximately 90% of the world's fish thrive in this zone, amounting to a staggering 10 billion tons of fish, according to the Smithsonian. Squids, jellyfish, turtles, some sharks and dolphins live in the Mesopelagic zone.

The Bathyal Zone

Further down, between 3,300 feet and 13,100 feet, is the Bathypelagic zone or Bathyal zone. This area is about 39 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pressure is over 110 times what it is at sea level.

While there’s not much food in this zone, you can still find black hagfish, viperfish, anglerfish, sleeper sharks, vampire squids, and the very cute Dumbo octopus.

The Abyssal Zone

The Abyssopelagic zone, or Abyssal zone: This is where it starts getting scarier, in our opinion; it goes from 13,100 feet to 19,700 feet deep. The pressures at this depth can reach up to 600 times what are experienced at sea level, with near-freezing temperatures, according to the Smithsonian.

However, you can still find things like faceless fish, sea pigs, atolla jellyfish, tripod fish, fangtooth fish, and one of the rarest sharks, the megamouth shark.

The Hadal Zone

Now, to the deepest part of the ocean we have been warning you about, the Hadalpelagic zone, or Hadal zone. This zone goes from 19,700 feet to the very bottom, nearly 36,000 feet deep. The pressure here is more than 1,071 times the standard atmospheric pressure at sea level.

Very little is known about life in this environment; almost every expedition uncovers something new. Nonetheless, life still exists.

Jim Kitchen, a lifelong explorer, traveled into space and to the deepest known point of the Earth's seabed in 2022 and says the experience was just incredible.

"We actually collected a number of amphipods that are like little shrimp — they are fantastic. Think about it: They have no light, they're in almost freezing temperatures, there's no oxygen, there's the crushing pressure. But these creatures thrive down there," Kitchen said in an op-ed for Newsweek. "In addition, we saw some sea cucumbers, which looked like transparent, floating blobs of mucus. They float around you, and you're thinking, "What is that thing?" They look like alien lifeforms."

Kitchen says he also saw "bacterial mats" that looked like "pieces of gold" when hit with the submarine’s light.

While food is very scarce here, these deep-sea creatures often feast on dead animals and food waste that sinks to the bottom of the ocean. But overall, they can live with very minimal food intake.

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