I get freaked out going underwater at the deep end of a public swimming pool, so I can't even imagine the fathomless blackness existing at the base of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. At 36,000 feet below the surface, researchers have recorded some of the first sounds to emanate from that harrowing hole, the deepest part of our planet, and they're haunting, to say the least. Little is known about life and the elements at that crushing depth, where an alien soundscape has been revealed in its echo chamber acoustical cavity.
“Light does not propagate underwater very far,” oceanographer Bob Dziak of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told Gizmodo. “But sound waves travel long distances through the Earth’s oceans. Acoustics is really the best way to get a good picture of deep ocean environments. I was surprised by just how cleanly we can record whales, ships and all sorts of activity taking place at the surface.”
Dziak and his team designed and created a special titanium-encased microphone to withstand the brutal 16,000 pounds-per-square-inch pressure existing at that depth and a mooring system to slowly lower it to the bottom of the trench at a slow, acclimating speed. The hydrophone made a successful descent to Challenger Deep last summer, then rested there for 23 days recording boat propellers, whale song, surface typhoons and earthquakes before being hauled back up in November.
“It is akin to sending a deep-space probe to the outer solar system,” Dziak said. “We’re sending out a deep-ocean probe to the unknown reaches of inner space.”
The first and only time humans descended into the maw of Challenger Deep was in 1960, when Jacques Piccard and Navy Lt. Don Walsh reached the bottom of the trench in a U.S. Navy bathyscaphe called the Trieste. Following a perilous five-hour descent, the explorers spent only 20 minutes at the bottom and were unable to take photographs due to dark clouds of silt stirred up by their downward passage.
Have a listen to these ghostly sounds from the bottom of the Earth and let us know what strange and monstrous creatures you think might lurk down there!
PASSING SHIP PROPELLOR
MAGNITUDE 5 EARTHQUAKE JULY 16
BALEEN WHALE JUST BEFORE EARTHQUAKE