Earlier in 2013, scientists discovered the largest volcano on Earth, which sits under the Pacific Ocean a thousand miles east of Japan. This geologic giant also rivals the largest volcano in the solar system – Mars's Olympus Mons peak, which we've known about for centuries. That a dome-shaped formation the size of New Mexico on the seafloor had gone unnoticed until long after the advent of space exploration speaks volumes about just how little knowledge we have regarding the 70 percent of the world that's covered by water.
This century will see the end of our ignorance.
From state-of-the-art diving gear to vessels that appear to have been lifted from the pages of science fiction, new technologies are allowing underwater explorers to go farther and deeper than ever before. Several decades after scuba gear first allowed us to poke around in the shallows, manned and unmanned submersibles are taking scientists into the depths, cameras are bringing open water to the masses, and underwater planes are swooping through vast expanses of blue.
Technology is the prerequisite for oceanic exploration, and the next wave of innovations has arrived. Here are the devices and vehicles that will finally allow humans to explore the rest of our world.
The DeepWorker 2000 is a serious workhorse of a sub. The model number is an indicator of a serious maximum working depth – a pilot can take it down to 2,000 feet.
The sub comes with external manipulators to tackle serious underwater jobs. It's got lights and cameras and a life support system that'll last a couple of days, and it's been used to shoot both popcorn movies and documentaries. It's routinely used to inspect undersea pipelines, and NASA astronauts have piloted the sub to practice making the kinds of critical maneuvers they might someday make on the surface of an asteroid.
A new version of this one-person submersible just had its first sea trials. It's the DeepWorker 3000, and as its model number implies, it adds a whopping thousand feet to the depth capability of its workhorse predecessor. Going that deep is always serious, but that doesn't mean it isn't also a ton of fun.
"One of the things we seldom ever admit is that it's just an absolute blast to drive these things. It's just so much fun," says Phil Nuytten, president of Nuytco Research Ltd. in North Vancouver, Canada.
"It really is an underwater sports car," says Nuytten, a chief designer of the DeepWorker subs and a few other submersibles in his company's line, including one featured in 'The Abyss,' James Cameron's undersea sci-fi drama.
"You have no problem with friction and that sort of stuff, so you can literally turn on your own axis. You can spin. You can go up. You can go down. You're the master of the vertical as well as the horizontal – or anything in between," Nuytten says. "We have trained many pilots, and once they learn to use this sub, which is very simple, they always come up with a giant grin from ear to ear."
Nuytco sells DeepWorkers to non-scientists, but you'll probably want to stick with the scuba gear. The price tag on the tough little sub is well in excess of $1 million.