There is a ton of information regarding how deep is the ocean, or how big it is. But one question that people often forget to ask is, where do we figure in there?
How deep can we dive? How much of the ocean have we explored?
If you have ever wondered what our connection to the ocean deeps is, you’re gonna love this infographic!
Embed How Deep Can We Dive on Your Site: Copy and Paste the Code Below
Here’s a closer look at the ocean depth from the infographic:
1. The official scuba-diving limit is 100 meters (328ft)
Scuba diving is tricky. There are some inherent dangers because of the way gasses found in the air we breathe act at high pressures (air is mostly comprised of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon-dioxide).
With every 10 meters under water, the pressure rises by one atmosphere, which means that at 50 meters the pressure is five times as high as it is on surface.
Narcosis is an effect similar to drowsiness or being slightly drunk, where inhaling gasses at high pressure can cause the slight change in our consciousness. Almost all gasses have this anesthetic effect, but at different pressures.
Most diving associations don’t allow recreational divers to dive below 60 meters, and 66 meters is considered a limit for using compressed air. After that, special mixtures have to be used in order to prevent oxygen toxicity. These special mixtures substitute a part of oxygen, and even nitrogen, with helium.
When a diver reaches depths with relatively high pressures, the partial pressure of oxygen that we breathe in increases to a point where the oxygen penetrates the tissue of our eyes, lungs and nervous system, which in turn can cause vomiting, seizures, blindness, organ damage and failure, and death. In order to avoid these terrible consequences, we use special gas mixtures instead of normal compressed air, of which the most famous is the so called Trimix – a mixture of oxygen, helium and nitrogen.
These pressure issues are the reason why scuba divers have to take a lot of time when returning from the dives, in order to prevent oxygen toxicity damage, and decompression issues (which is sort of opposite to toxicity – gas bubbles are released from the tissue due to the rapid lowering of the pressure). It took some time to establish these limits, which naturally leads us to:
2. Maurice Fargues, the first scuba diving casualty, dived at 120 meters (390 ft)
It is fairly logical to conclude that scuba diving is by its nature very dangerous, and it especially was in the first half of the twentieth century when technology wasn’t as developed as it is today, and some risk were still unknown. One of the men that unfortunately paid dearly to further our knowledge on this topic was a French diver, Maurice Fargues.
Fargues was a part of French Navy diving team, and he was an extremely adept diver who even saved two of his teammates from drowning on one of their diving missions. What he is most well known for, unfortunately, is his decision to establish what the safe scuba diving limit is. After several months of preparation, on September 17, 1947, Fargues made a dive off the coast of Toulon, where one of the French navy bases was located.
The plan was fairly simple:
He was going to dive down the anchored line which was marked at 10 meter intervals, and he would sign each marker as he passed it. He would occasionally have to tug on his safety line, so that his spotter on the surface, Frédéric Dumas, knows that everything is ok. After around 3 minutes into the dive, Maurice stopped signaling, and his teammates scrambled to rescue him. Dumas started pulling him up by his safety line, while a couple of divers dived in to meet him half-way at the depth of around 60 meters. When they reached him, they found him unconscious with his mouthpiece loose.
They quickly pulled him up and tried to resuscitate him, but after 12 hours without success, they had to proclaim him dead, to the great despair of Frédéric Duma and Jacques Cousteau, men whose life Fargues saved.
As Cousteau wrote in his book, “The Silent World”:
“Dumas and I owed our lives to Maurice Fargues, who had resurrected us from the death cave at Vaucluse. We will not be consoled that we were unable to save him.”
Besides the signed 120-meter marker on the line, Maurice left one more proof of his feat:
He etched his name into a rock slate at that depth, a fitting monument to this brave diver.
3. 253.2 meters (831 feet) is the deepest free dive made by Austrian Herbert Nitsch
Photo via herbertnitsch.com
Free diving can be done with various supporting equipment, but it must be done on a single breath – without use of the scuba equipment. There are numerous free-dive categories, such as with fins and without fins, length, static, and so on, with their individual records, but the most impressive by far is the so-called No-limits apnea (NLT), where any sort of equipment can be used to help diver descend and ascend. Naturally, this category is responsible for the deepest free-dive ever made.
This feat was accomplished by an Austrian free diver, Herbert Nitsch. Twice. He actually beat his own record he set in 2007, with his of 253.2 meters (831 feet) dive he made in 2012. In the no limit dives, motorized sleds have become the most popular means of descent and ascent, and Nitsch used a special, purpose built torpedo sled for his latest achievement. He had to train extensively for months, to prepare himself for a rapid shift in pressure that he was going to experience.
As one might notice, this depth is considerably greater than the scuba diving limit. This is because narcosis and oxygen toxicity only happen if we inhale gasses under pressure, not if we ourselves are subjected to it. However, Nitsch did suffer from several unpleasant effects: he suffered a blackout during the last 10 meters of his descent that he later described as “blackout through narcosis”, which was found strange by some, as the expected culprit would be oxygen starvation. He regained his consciousness on the ascent, but suffered from serious symptoms of decompression and had to be helped by the safety divers in the last 10 meters of the ascent, which was followed by an emergency transfer to a decompression chamber that was on alert for this particular dive.
4. Deepest dive with scuba-gear stands at 332 meters (1,089 ft)
Photo via Guinness World Records
This amazing feat was done by the Egyptian diver Ahmed Gabr, who beat the previous world record of 318.25 meters (also made by Gabr in 2010). Gabr, who was 41 at the time, is an extremely accomplished diver with over 9000 dives to his belt. He was an officer in the Egyptian army, and is the only certified US combat diver in Egypt.
As already stated, the technical limit before oxygen toxicity kicks in is officially at 100 meters, but nothing stops expert divers to push further with special breathing gas mixtures. The Trimix (Oxygen-Nitrogen-Helium) mixture Gabr used is a jealously kept secret by Gabr and his team, along with his diving plan.
The initial plan for Gabr was to reach the round number of 350 meters, but he had to cut it short due to the high-pressure nervous syndrome (HPNS) he experienced during the last leg of his dive.
After he decided that it is too dangerous to continue he still had a long way to go:
His ascent took 13 hours and 35 minutes. He had to make frequent stops, in order to avoid decompression, each stop being longer as he approached the surface. While Gabr is the official record holder, a whole team of support divers, doctors, and other experts were part of this achievement.
All these extreme human dives pass the so-called euphotic zone which is the depth at which sun can penetrate water. The growing darkness of the ocean depths below 200 meters is one of the many causes for a myriad of bioluminescent creatures that inhabit the ocean, like various deep-sea fish, jellies, and plankton.
This change in light levels is also an important psychological factor for the divers, and lowered visibility increases this already dangerous endeavor.
5. Depth that deep diving sharks can reach is between 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) and 1800 meters (6000 feet)
The Frilled shark is a very unusual looking eel-like fish that spends most of its time at depths of 50–200 m (160–660 ft), but it has been caught as deep as 1,570 m (5,150 ft). This living fossil, dubbed so because of how old the species is, can reach up to 2 m (6.6 ft) in length.
Another deep diver is the so-called Bluntnose sixgill shark, with a slightly more conventional look. These sharks, commonly referred to as cow sharks, can reach lengths of 4.9 m (16 ft), and mostly feed on mollusks, crustaceans, and hagfish. Most sharks today have 5 gill slits, unlike the aptly named six gills shark, which makes this species older than most sharks, but still younger than the Frilled shark. These deep diving sharks can typically be found at depths greater than 90 m (300 ft), but in some cases sixgills have been recorded as deep as 6,000 feet (over 1,800 meters). These sharks tend to drift up while they’re sleeping, so they can be found at shallow waters at times, but extremely rarely.
6. Deepest recorded whale dive is at 2,992 meters (9,816 feet)
Image via National Geographic
What humans train for extensively for years, some mammals can do naturally. Of course, diving does come a bit easier to an animal that has evolved to live in the water. Whales can in general hold breath for hours and some species, like sperm whales, are notorious deep divers.
The deep diving crown goes to Cuvier’s beaked whales:
This elusive species regularly dives to depths of more than 2000 meters (6600 ft), and one particular specimen is current record holder for both the longest and the deepest dive made by a whale.
This adventurous whale was recorded off the coast of California, where it was underwater for 2 hours and 17 minutes, with the maximum dive depth of whopping 2,992 meters (9,816 feet)!
The Cuvier’s beaked whales, sperm whales, and other deep diving whales make these crazy dives in search of food. Whales are often found to have weird behavior, but this deep diving habit is fairly easily explained – their diet mostly consists of giant and colossal squids, and other deep diving whale-snacks. Besides high pressures, and other dangers of deep diving, such eating habits can be quite dangerous – a fact proven by numerous scars made by squid beaks commonly found on sperm whales.
7. Deepest part of the ocean, which we reached twice: 10,994 meters (36,070 feet)
The deepest part of the ocean is the Challenger deep in Mariana Trench, located near the Mariana Islands in Pacific Ocean. It was first discovered by the British Royal Navy survey ship HMS Challenger, sometime in the 1870s. While it was a point of great fascination, we were able to send humans down there for the first time in the 1960, in special purpose-built bathyscape (A small submersible that is self propelled) called Trieste. Two men, scientist Jacques Piccard (son of the bathyscaphe designer August Piccard), and the US navy officer Don Walsh were selected for this particular mission.
Their decent took almost 5 hours, and allowed them to stay only 20 minutes on the ocean floor. Nevertheless, the information they brought back with them to surface was invaluable to the scientists of the time.
Our second time around went a bit better:
Image via DeepSeaChallenge.com
James Cameron, a Canadian director, dove in his Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV), Deep Sea Challenger on March 26, 2012. Advances in technology could easily be seen, as his descend was almost two times faster than on the previous dive made by Trieste. Cameron spent around 3 hours on the ocean floor, before having to resurface. He donated the Deep Sea Challenger to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, but the submarine never got in one piece there. It was damaged during the transport, when the track that carried it caught fire. Since then, it has been stored away in the Woods-Hole, but to this day hasn’t been used again.
Ocean depths are amazing, mysterious, and intimidating. We know so little about them, yet they are literally at our doorstep.
We have explored a larger surface area of Moon and Mars, than of the ocean floor, but luckily we are making strides in understand our own planet more.
Ever since we started conquering our seas and oceans, they have been a symbol of human thirst for exploration, and our indomitable spirit.
One can only wonder, what wondrous discoveries await us down there.
Who knows what awaits us down there?