June 12, 2012

China Poised For Record-Setting Dive In Mariana Trench

China announced on Monday that its Jiaolong deep-sea submersible is now ready to attempt the country´s first 23,000 feet (7,000 meters) manned dive.

The three-man submersible vessel is being carried by the Xiangyanghong 09 ship, which arrived at the designated dive area of the Mariana Trench -- the deepest spot on Earth -- on Monday morning, according to China´s official Xinhua news agency.

Depending on local weather and sea conditions, the Jiaolong will dive six times -- progressively deeper each time -- as it attempts the new dive record.

"Before the formal sea dives, a comprehensive review of the submersible as well as its support system will be taken," on-scene commander Liu Feng told Xinhua from the Xiangyanghong 09.

The Jiaolong, named after a dragon from Chinese mythology, reached a depth of 17,000 feet in a dive last July, a milestone that puts most of the ocean floor's massive resources within China's reach, Xinhua said.

In the first of Jiaolong´s six dives, the vessel will descend more than 16,000 feet. This will be followed by progressively deeper dives, each of which will be eight to 12 hours long, Xinhua said.

Jian Zhimin, director of the State Key Laboratory of Marine Geology at Shanghai's Tongji University, said the mission could be used for geologic research and to gather samples of sea life.

"It's not a simply constructed submersible," Zhimin told the AFP news agency.

"If it is successful in the 7,000-meter challenge, then it can be turned over to scientists for use,” he said, adding that since Jiaolong's maximum design depth is 7,000 meters, a dive to that depth would test the limits of China's technological capabilities.

China has previously said its submersible program is intended to conduct scientific research, peaceful exploration and natural resources.

Experts say the oceans' floors contain rich deposits of potentially valuable minerals. However, the extreme depths mean there would be significant technical challenges in harvesting these minerals on a broad scale.

Jiaolong´s attempted dive record coincides with China´s plans to launch its first manned space docking later this month, part of the nation´s campaign to establish a permanent space station by 2020.