A Fascinating 3D Animation Shows the Depths of the Ocean

Deep sea explo­ration and the sci­ence of oceanog­ra­phy began 150 years ago when British sur­vey ship HMS Chal­lenger set off from Portsmouth with 181 miles of rope. The Roy­al Soci­ety tasked the expe­di­tion, among oth­er things, with “investigat[ing] the phys­i­cal con­di­tions of the deep sea… in regard to depth, tem­per­a­ture cir­cu­la­tion, spe­cif­ic grav­i­ty and pen­e­tra­tion of light.” It was the first such voy­age of its kind.

To accom­plish its objec­tives, Chal­lenger swapped all but two of its guns for spe­cial­ized equip­ment, includ­ing — as assis­tant ship’s stew­ard Joseph Matkin described in a let­ter home — “thou­sands of small air tight bot­tles and lit­tle box­es about the size of Valen­tine box­es packed in Iron Tanks for keep­ing spec­i­mens in, insects, but­ter­flies, moss­es, plants, etc… a pho­to­graph­ic room on the main deck, also a dis­sect­ing room for carv­ing up Bears, Whales, etc.”

Find­ings from the four-year voy­age totaled almost thir­ty-thou­sand pages when pub­lished in a report. But the Chal­lenger’s most famous lega­cy may be its dis­cov­ery of the Mar­i­ana Trench. The ship record­ed a sound­ing of 4,475 fath­oms (26,850 ft.) in a south­ern part of the trench sub­se­quent­ly called Chal­lenger Deep, and now known as the deep­est part of the ocean and the “low­est point on Earth.” The most recent sound­ings using advanced sonar have mea­sured its depth at some­where between 35,768 to 36,037 feet, or almost 7 miles (11 kilo­me­ters).

Chal­lenger Deep is so deep that if Ever­est were sub­merged into its depths, the moun­tain’s peak would still be rough­ly a mile and a half under­wa­ter. In 1960, a manned crew of two descend­ed into the trench. Dozens of remote oper­at­ed vehi­cles (ROVs) have explored its depths since, but it would­n’t be until 2012 that anoth­er human made the 2.5 hour descent, when Avatar and The Abyss direc­tor James Cameron financed his own expe­di­tion. Then in 2019, explor­er Vic­tor Vescoso made the jour­ney, set­ting the Guin­ness world record for deep­est manned sub­ma­rine dive when he reached the East­ern Pool, a depres­sion with­in Chal­lenger Deep. Just last year, he best­ed the record with his mis­sion spe­cial­ist John Rost, explor­ing the East­ern Pool for over four hours.

Last year’s descent brings the total num­ber of peo­ple to vis­it Chal­lenger Deep to five. How can the rest of us wrap our heads around a point so deep beneath us it can swal­low up Mount Ever­est? The beau­ti­ful­ly detailed, 3D ani­ma­tion at the top of the post does a great job of con­vey­ing the rel­a­tive depths of oceans, seas, and major lakes, show­ing under­sea tun­nels and ship­wrecks along the way, with man­made objects like the Eif­fel Tow­er (which marks, with­in a few meters, the deep­est scu­ba dive) and Burj Khal­i­fa placed at inter­vals for scale.

By the time the ani­ma­tion — cre­at­ed by Meta­Ball­Stu­dios’ Alvaro Gra­cia Mon­toya– sub­merges us ful­ly (with boom­ing, echo­ing musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment) in the Mar­i­ana Trench, we may feel that we have had a lit­tle taste of the awe that lies at the deep­est ocean depths.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A Rad­i­cal Map Puts the Oceans–Not Land–at the Cen­ter of Plan­et Earth (1942)

What the Earth Would Look Like If We Drained the Water from the Oceans

Cli­mate Change Gets Strik­ing­ly Visu­al­ized by a Scot­tish Art Instal­la­tion

Film­mak­er James Cameron Going 36,000 Feet Under the Sea

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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