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Submersible Is First to Reach Bottom of Atlantic Ocean

U.S. equity-firm founder piloted the craft to the bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench, in a bid to reach the deepest spot in each of the world’s oceans

Victor Vescovo entering the Limiting Factor for his record-breaking descent. (Five Deeps Expedition)
smithsonian.com

A few days before Christmas, a submersible journeyed all 27,480 feet down to the very bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench. The feat made U.S. private equity firm founder Victor Vescovo the first person to reach the deepest spot in the Atlantic Ocean, reports Rupert Neate at The Guardian.

It took Vescovo 2.5 hours to pilot his custom-built, $35 million Triton submersible, called the Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) Limiting Factor, to the true bottom of the trench, which was determined using a state-of-the-art sonar system, according to an expedition press release. While in the trench, the team believes Vescovo recorded or collected four deep-sea species new to science.

Vescovo has previously trekked to both the North and South Poles and climbed the highest mountain on each continent, including Mount Everest, a combo known as the “Explorer’s Grand Slam.” But that club is—relatively speaking—a little crowded, with more than 60 people having completed the feat. That’s one reason Vescovo decided to take to the water. The Puerto Rico Trench dive is the first leg of his latest challenge: to reach the lowest spot in each of the world's five oceans. He’s dubbed the feat, inaccessible to anyone without millions of dollars of resources, the “Five Deeps Expedition.”

Josh Dean at Popular Science reports that Limiting Factor and its support ship, Pressure Drop, are truly unique. Currently, there are only five manned submersibles on Earth capable of descending past 13,123 feet and all of those are state-run. That makes the Limiting Factor something of a test vehicle.

Vescovo’s next stop on the tour is the South Sandwich Trench, the deepest spot in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, which is scheduled for February. Of all the deep spots, that one is perhaps the least understood because of its remoteness and subzero temperatures. The other stops on his trek include a visit to the Java Trench in the Indian Ocean, the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, home to the Challenger Deep, the deepest known spot in the Earth’s oceans. All of the dives are being filmed for a show on the Discovery Channel.

Through one lens, the trip can be seen as a vanity project for a rich explorer. However, as Ann Vanreusel, head of the research group Marine Biology of Ghent University, tells Erik Stokstad at Science, whatever the motive behind the expedition, it has true scientific value. “[T]here is not any funding agency that would be willing to spend so much money to visit all those areas,” she says.

Indeed, Five Deeps is poised to produce some of the most accurate maps ever of the ocean’s deepest spots and unseen habitats and creatures, aided by the fact that Alan Jamieson, a marine ecologist at Newcastle University and one of the world’s leading experts on the ocean’s depths, is the science leader of the expedition.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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