(Photo : courtesy James Cameron/Deepsea Challenge)
The Hollywood director who took movie audiences to the bottom of the sea in "Titanic" has given scientists a new way to study the oceanic world up-close and personal.
On the first anniversary solo descent into the Mariana Trench, believed the deepest part of the ocean, movie-maker-turned-adventurer James Cameron announced he was giving his one-man submersible to the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the world's premiere ocean science research centers.
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"There are a number of really, really interesting science targets out there. I would love to see the Deepsea Challenger dive in the Tonga Trench, the Kermadec Trench and the Sirena Deep (a part of the Mariana Trench)."
The director lamented how the ocean is a vast, still greatly-unexplored frontier, but funding cuts are now jeopardizing research efforts.
When Cameron made his historic dive in 2012, he became the first person in 50 years to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and the only person to have ever made the voyage alone.
The only other manned dive to the so-called Challenger Deep was completed in 1960 by U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard, who rode down in a bathyscaphe called Trieste.
It took Cameron approximately two hours to reach the seafloor, where he then spent several hours exploring and taking 3D images for a National Geographic film set for release later this year.
Cameron told the BBC his dive helped researchers discover "over 68 new species - most are bacteria, some are amphipods, and there is possibly a new sea cucumber... and that number may go way up."
Cameron said that donating the vessel would give the sub "a second phase" of life, since funding had become so scarce he had to abandon plans for a second set of dives.
"I'd love to keep the Deepsea Challenger continuously operational. But I think that what I'm going for right now is what I call 'potentially operational'. The way to do that is to preserve the hardware 100 percent, which we'll do, but more importantly to preserve the culture of the engineering."
With the small sub at its new home at Woods Hole, Cameron said, "there will be a residential team in place, and they will have the knowledge of how to bring that sub back online."
Woods Hole has indicated it will initially use some of the components from Cameron's sub to supplement its own vessels. The lights and cameras from Deepsea Challenger will be installed on Nereus, an unmanned underwater vehicle that has also explored the Mariana Trench.
Then, at some point, said Dave Gallo, director of special projects at WHOI, there would be an effort to see whether the submersible could be used again. As he said, Deepsea Challenger "is for one person, so you would have to have someone trained to do it - and we are looking very closely at every option."