The Last Dive

By Dokoupil, Tony | Newsweek, January 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Last Dive


Dokoupil, Tony, Newsweek


Byline: Tony Dokoupil

Funding for human expeditions to the watery depths appears to have run aground. As legendary explorer Sylvia Earle says goodbye to the ocean floor, are machines good enough to take her place?

The fall ends with a thud, our machine hitting the ocean floor, 1,500 feet beneath the Pacific swells.

It's mid-morning, five miles off the coast of Hawaii, and the surface world suddenly feels like mere imagination, a theory in a water-logged science journal somewhere. Through the small round windows of Pisces IV, one of the deepest-diving subs in the world, our only reality is dark, airless, and teeming with unseen life.

We are sock-footed and smushed into a seven-foot steel sphere: this writer, the sub's pilot, and Sylvia Earle, perhaps the most accomplished oceanographer since Jacques Cousteau. At 77, she is the grande dame of American ocean science and exploration. But since the moment we closed the hatch, she's been grinning like a schoolkid, calling out the changes outside our window: "Blue ... bluer ... blueissimo." When we hit bottom, she cups her hands over her mouth and peers into the twilight. "Is anybody home?" she calls and, dropping her voice into a cartoonish baritone, answers her own question. "YEESSS," she says. "ALL OF US."

For the next six hours we are skimming the seabed, throwing light on an animal-filled terrain of boulders and slopes, cliffs and ravines. We are slimed by passing squid, eyeballed by crabs the size of small dogs, and ignored by fish that walk the ocean floor like something from the pages of Dr. Seuss.

Officially, we are on the hunt for black coral, the longest-living animal known to science, a predator that kills by slipping over other organisms, like a latex glove over a hand. Scientists believe the husk left inside may hold secrets to the path of climate change. But this is virgin ocean, never before explored by humankind, and just plain wandering is useful work, too.

We see military coffee mugs knocked or thrown from American ships during World War II, and the occasional aluminum can, usually Budweiser. "The preferred beer of the environmentally unconscious," says Terry Kerby, the sub's pilot. Lunch is peanut-butter sandwiches and, for one of us, a bolt of fear as water dribbles down the walls of the sub. "Condensation," says Kerby, nonchalant, and we float on until the light falls on a genuine mystery: a white blob on the periphery.

Plopped on an outcropping of rock, it looks like a human brain, only the skin is pimpled. A dead chicken? Kerby radios Pisces V, our sister sub, which is nearby and loaded with scientists. They use a robotic arm to scoop up a sample, and one of them later declares the thing, "likely a new species."

We may never know, because we may never go back.

Last spring James Cameron became a modern newsreel hero, diving the Mariana Trench, the Earth's deepest point, and seeming to signal a new golden age of discovery. Virgin Oceanic's Sir Richard Branson and Sylvia Earle herself, with money from Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, were each developing their own deep-diving machines. And this (quite collegial) "race to the bottom" was heralded as the ocean version of NASA's hand-off to private rocket-makers. On with the era of civil inquiry! On with individual enterprise! Or as Cameron tweeted from the ocean floor, in a message Twitter declared one of 2012's best moments of "just plain awesomeness": "Hitting bottom never felt so good."

But a year later, something far from a golden age has emerged. When the public looked away, piloted exploration stopped. Schmidt stopped funding Earle. Branson's effort stalled indefinitely. Even Cameron ran out of time and money, completing just eight "first phase" dives around Australia and Papua New Guinea. Today he says his history-making machine is in his engineering shop in Santa Barbara, Calif., "ready to dive" and available to the science community, but stowed like a moldy wet suit. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Last Dive
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.