Discoveries in the Deep
A Chronology of Undersea Exploration
Pacific Ocean above Juan de Fuca Ridge.
Sir John Ross lowers a line more than a mile into the North Atlantic
and hauls up worms and a large sea star.
Edward Forbes proposes that no substantial life can exist below three
1858 The first transatlantic telegraph cable comes to life, its laying
preceded by deep seabed surveys.
1859 Darwin's Origin of Species implies that the deep is a sanctuary for
1864 Norwegians haul up from the deep a sea lily, a living fossil previously
found only in rocks 120 million years old.
1870 Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea depicts no life in the ocean's deepest regions.
1872-76 British ship Challenger sails the globe while lowering dredges and
other gear into the deep, finding long mountain chains, puzzling nodules, and hundreds of animals previously unknown to science.
The 'Pompeii' tubeworm, Alvinella pompejana.
1892 Prince Albert of Monaco starts to probe the sea's dark midwaters, discovering new kinds of eels, fish, and squid.
1920 Alexander Behm sails the North Sea and bounces sound waves off its
bottom, advancing a new method of depth measurement known as echo sounding.
1925 Fritz Haber launches the German Meteor expedition in a bid to extract
gold from seawater.
1934 William Beebe and Otis Barton descend in a tethered sphere to a depth
of a half mile, where they glimpse a previously unseen world of living lights
and bizarre fish.
1938 Fishermen off South Africa pull up an ungainly five-foot fish
identified as a coelacanth, a living fossil thought extinct since the days of
Coelacanth, the 'fossil fish'.
1948 Auguste Piccard dives in his bathyscaph, the first untethered craft
that carried people into the deep.
1950-52 Danish ship Galathea lowers dredges into the sea's deepest trenches and hauls up swarms of invertebrates.
1951 British ship Challenger II bounces sound off the bottom, and near Guam
finds what appears to be the sea's deepest chasm, its lowest point nearly seven miles down, subsequently named the
1952 Marie Tharp, studying echo soundings, discovers that the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge conceals a long rift valley, which turns out to be part of a hidden volcanic rent that girds the global deep.
Vent in the ocean floor.
1953 Auguste Piccard and his son Jacques enter Trieste, an improved
bathyscaph, and dive to a depth of nearly two miles.
1958 American Navy buys Trieste and begins to strengthen its steel personnel
1960 Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh dive in Trieste to bottom of Challenger
Deep, seven miles down.
1961 American ship off Mexico lowers a pipe through more than two miles of
water and drills into the rocky seabed, a first that advances the fields of
deep geology and mining.
Robert Dietz, studying echo soundings, proposes that the seabed's
mountainous rifts are invisible scars where molten rock from the Earth's interior wells up
periodically and spreads laterally to form new ocean crust, a process he calls seafloor spreading.
Lava mound on the East Pacific Rise.
1963 Thresher, America's most advanced submarine, sinks in waters a mile and
a half deep with the loss of 129 men.
Trieste finds the shattered hulk of Thresher on the bottom after five
months of searching.
1964 American Navy founds the Deep Submergence Systems Project
to develop new gear that can better probe the deep sea's darkness.
Navy launches submersible Alvin, the first piloted craft able
to roam the deep with relative ease.
The submersible Alvin on duty.
1965 Navy tests its first underwater robot.
Navy develops Halibut, a submarine that can lower miles of
cables bearing lights, cameras, and other gear to spy on enemy
armaments and materiel lost on the bottom of the sea.
1966 Alvin and Navy robot probe the deep Mediterranean and retrieve a lost
American hydrogen bomb.
Halibut spies on Soviet warheads abandoned to the deep.