|Leading the World in Deep-Sea Exploration
Japan is surrounded by oceans, so the importance of oceanographical
research is not limited to industries such as fisheries. The coastal waters
of Japan lie over complex topography of subducting crustal plates, part
of this formation is a trench that is over 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) deep.
Such subduction is believed to be the cause of a number of major earthquakes,
including the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. Also, since this
abyssal ocean bed also has an accumulation of sediments resulting from
the changes that the earth has undergone over the course of several hundred
million years, field investigation of the deep sea will reveal valuable
evidence to answer questions about global alterations in the earth's crust
and the geological history of the earth.
Japan Marine Science and Technology Center (JAMSTEC) is the center of excellence for oceanographic research in Japan. The Center carries out a wide range of research, not only at the deep sea bottom, but also into technology for oceanographic observation and commercial development of the oceans. JAMSTEC operates two submersible survey vessels that have made the Center world famous for its deep-sea technology: the manned Shinkai 6500, which can carry out oceanographic data collection work at any depth down to 6,500 meters (21,325 feet); and the unmanned Kaiko.
Launched in 1989, the Shinkai 6500 succeeded in diving down to 6,527 meters (21,414 feet) in August of the same year. In March 1995 Kaiko carried out test dives in the Mariana Trench, at 10,911.4 meters (35,798 feet), the deepest in the world. The various data that Kaiko collected during this probing was valuable.
Thanks to Shinkai 6500 and Kaiko, it became clear that the sea from a depth of a few hundred meters, down to several thousand meters represents a variety of ecological formations. For example, we now know that the deep-sea mud at a depth of over 10,000 meters (32,808 feet), a zone of ultrahigh water pressure (about 1000 times greater than air pressure at sea level) and low temperatures (2 degrees Centigrade (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit)) provides a home for about 180 kinds of micro-organisms.
Photos: (From top) Shinkai 6500; Kaiko; Senju Namako, a deep-sea fish found at 6527 m undersea. (Japan Marine Science and Technology Center)
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