James Cameron, Back from the Deep

Deepsea Challenger new species

New species found during the Deepsea Challenger expedition in 2012. From the caption in Gallo et al. 2015: “A and B: Unknown Teuthidodrilus polychaete species from 1 km in the NBT. C. Large hadal ulmarid cnidarian observed at 8.2 km in the NBT. D. Crustacean (decapod or mysid) observed during submersible and baited lander deployments at 8.2 km in the NBT. E and F. Caymenostellid asteroids observed on wood debris and bones at 8.2 km in the NBT. G and H. Epidiid holothurians observed at 10.9 km in the MT CD. NBT = New Britain Trench, MT CD = Mariana Trench Challenger Deep.”

“Hi, I’m James Cameron. You may remember me from such blockbusters as Alien and Titanic. But today, I’m here to talk to you about something different: trends in deep-sea epibenthic biodiversity.”

Well, that’s how Troy McClure might say it. On Twitter this morning, Andrew Thaler drew my attention to a new publication by Natasha Gallo et al. in Deep Sea Research I, on biodiversity in several of the worlds deepest ocean trenches. The paper is notable for its sampling locations, its observations of novel species, and for its second author. That would be James Cameron, filmmaker and now ocean explorer.

I wrote, somewhat skeptically, about Cameron’s Deepsea Challenger expedition back in 2012. I’m now prepared to eat a few of those words. It’s great to see some of the results from that expedition showing up in the scientific literature, and that Cameron has apparently remained involved in the analysis and writing-up of those results after he got back to land.

However, a larger point still stands. I think it is admirable that Cameron is spending his $900 million net worth on research submersibles rather than gold-plated jet skis or something. But in the long run, well-intentioned billionaires are not a substitute for an equitable society with strong support for science as a public institution.

As a side note, Deepsea Challenger failed to beat the depth record set by the Trieste in 1960. By three meters—10,908 to 10,911. Call it a gentle karmic rebuke.

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