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The Challenger Deep is the deepest known point in the oceans, 10,911 meters (35,797 feet) deep at its maximum, near 11°22′N 142°36′E.

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Location - Contents

It is in the Pacific Ocean, off the island of Guam in the Mariana Islands group at the southern end of the Mariana Trench. The closest piece of land is Fais Island, one of the outer islands of Yap, 289 km southwest. Guam is 306 km to the northeast.

Name - Contents

The Challenger Deep is named after the Royal Navy survey ship Challenger II, which surveyed the trench in 1951.

Depth - Contents

On 23 January 1960, the US Navy Bathyscaphe Trieste descended to the ocean floor in the trench. Trieste, which was manned by Jacques Piccard and Lieutenant Don Walsh, measured the descent as 10,916 meters (35,813 feet) deep. (Later and more accurate measurements in 1995 have found the Challenger Deep to be shallower, at 10,911 m or 35,797 ft.). The descent took almost five hours and the two men spent barely twenty minutes on the ocean floor before undertaking the 3 hour 15 minute ascent. They observed small soles and flounders and noted the floor consisted of diatomaceous ooze while on the bottom.In 1984, a Japanese survey vessel using a narrow, multi-beam echo sounder took a measurement of 10,923 meters (35,838 feet).A Japanese robotic deep-sea probe, known as Kaiko, broke the depth record for unmanned probes when it reached the bottom of the Challenger Deep on 24 March 1995. Created by the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center (JAMSTEC), it was one of the rare few unmanned deep-sea probes in operation that could dive deeper than about 6000 meters (19,680 feet). Its recorded depth of 10,911 m (35,797 ft) for the Challenger Deep is believed to be the most accurate measurement taken yet. Unfortunately, Kaiko was lost at sea on 29 March 2003, after just more than 8 years of service, when one of the secondary cables snapped during an approaching typhoon. Currently no other operational vehicle exists that is capable of reaching the same depths, and no other manned vehicle has come to the same depth as Trieste.

Fauna - Contents

Recently, an analysis of the sediment samples collected by Kaiko before she sank, published in Science, Vol 307, Issue 5710, pq. 689 [1], announced the discovery of simple organisms at 10,900 meters water depth. While similar lifeforms have been known to exist in shallower ocean trenches (>7,000 m) and on the abyssal plain, the lifeforms discovered in the Challenger Deep possibly represent independent taxa from those shallower ecosystems.Out of the 432 organisms collected, the overwhelming majority of the sample consisted of simple, soft-shelled foraminifera, with four of the others representing species of the complex, multi-chambered genera Leptohalysis and Reophax. Overall, 85% of the specimens consisted of organic soft-shelled allogromids. This is unusual compared to samples of sediment-dwelling organisms from other deep-sea environments, where the percentage of organic-walled foraminifera ranges from 5% to 20% of the total. As small organisms with hard calcated shells have trouble growing at extreme (10,000 m) depths because the water at that depth is severely lacking in calcium carbonate, scientists theorize that the preponderance of soft-shelled organisms at the Challenger Deep may have resulted from the typical biosphere present when the Challenger Deep was shallower than it is now. Over the course of six to nine million years, as the Challenger Deep grew to its present depth, many of the species present in the sediment died out or were unable to adapt to the increasing water pressure and changing environment. The remaining species may have been the ancestors of the Challenger Deep's current denizens.
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