How deep is the ocean?

How deep is the ocean?

July 1, 2002

As researchers at the University of Victoria and the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility (CSSF) recently discovered, it's just a little too deep.

Not for the team of researchers. Not even for their star piece of equipment—the Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science (ROPOS), an impressive underwater machine that scours the ocean floor taking pictures, gathering data, and bringing up samples of everything from ancient lava to microbes. In fact, both human and machine have always been ship shape and ready for duty. The problem was the high-tech cable that tethered the submersible vehicle and allowed it to descend to the depths on its underwater missions. The cable was too short.

The cable wasn't really a high-tech problem for the state-of-the-art operation, but it was serious enough to limit the research potential of the CSSF team—affiliated with the University of Victoria's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and based at the Institute of Ocean Sciences on Vancouver Island. To help solve the problem, the group of researchers turned to the Canada Foundation for Innovation for help.

With CFI infrastructure support, the university and the not-for-profit CSSF were able to acquire a much longer new cable that allows the ROPOS to reach its full 5,000-metre depth capability. That's a huge improvement over the previous maximum capability of 3,500 metres, and especially comforting to those who want Canadian researchers to be self-sufficient. Without the new infrastructure, Canadians would be forced to depend on costly foreign help to even reach the seafloor in Canadian waters

Since nearly half the world's ocean floor is below 4,000 metres, and only a fraction of the 50,000 kilometres of deep-ocean volcanic ridges has been explored, the new cable has opened up new deep-sea frontiers. As a result, researchers from across Canada and around the globe are anxious to use the equipment to probe the depths.

The world is looking to the deep sea for many reasons: living resources, mineral resources, waste disposal, and climate buffering. Canada is currently a leader in deep-sea technologies with programs in biotechnology and environmental assessment. The availability of an internationally competitive deep-sea submersible facility is increasing opportunities for Canadian scientists and students to participate in leading-edge international programs. They're also being invited to work on other projects around the world. Afterwards, they bring their new-found expertise home and help to train other researchers, graduate students, and electronics and engineering personnel. Something that's especially important as more and more industrial activities—offshore mining, waste disposal, oil and gas exploration—move to greater depths.