Dr Dawn Wright, chief scientist at geographic information systems (GIS) supplier Esri, has taken the role of mission sonar specialist alongside pilot Victor Vescovo to complete her first – and his 15th – dive to the deepest point on Earth, the Challenger Deep in the Pacific’s Mariana Trench.
The two-person submersible that carried them, the Limiting Factor, recorded a maximum depth of 10,919m on the dive.
Dr Wright, like Vescovo, is a member of the elite Explorers Club, and is recognised for her significant contributions to seabed exploration and mapping, and her writings on marine GIS technology.
“There is still so much we don’t know about the vast majority of our own planet,” she said. “This is why it is such an important scientific endeavour to understand the oceans better.”
During the expedition, Wright and Vescovo tested and were able to prove the viability of the world’s first full-ocean-depth side-scan sonar. Built by France’s Deep Ocean Search, it was first used at a shallower depth of 6.9km in the recent dive to find the Samuel B Roberts shipwreck, reported on Divernet.
The breakthrough opens the way for the sonar to be used in producing ultra-high detailed mapping or detection of wreckage whatever its depth.
The expedition team will use Esri’s GIS software to process the raw sonar data and produce what they hope is the most detailed map yet of portions of the deepest place on Earth. Dr Wright plans to release a series of maps and data from the dive on Esri’s ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World.
Deep-sea mapping carried out from Limiting Factor goes towards providing the 3D understanding of ocean volume that climate scientists need to build better models of climate change, and conservationists need to fully assess and design marine protected areas.
Next on the agenda for the expedition team are the first-ever crewed descents into the Yap and Palau trenches, with navigators Seasario Sewralur of Micronesia and former Palau president Thomas Rememngesau.
Undersea explorer Vescovo is founder of the ocean research company Caladan Oceanic, and the latest dive was as usual co-ordinated by expedition leader Rob McCallum, founder of EYOS Expeditions. Limiting Factor, commissioned from Triton Submarines, is the only vehicle commercially certified for unlimited depth and capable of repeatedly visiting any ocean, at any depth, at any time of year.
Also on Divernet: What On Earth Is Next For Vescovo?