Race to the seabed
I read an article in The Korea Times Tuesday that “Titanic” director James Cameron successfully completed the first-ever solo dive to the Earth’s deepest point. The news reminded me of “The Big Blue (Le Grand Bleu),” a 1988 film made by French director Luc Besson.
The film depicts a fictionalized account of the sporting rivalry and friendship between two famed free divers. The beautiful and serene film features extensive underwater scenes. I was impressed by the transparent, deep blue sea.
Jacques was born in a small fishing village in Greece. Jacques, whose father died while diving, had a friend named Enzo. The real-life champions competed to dive deeper. They descended to a depth of about 100 meters. They did it without breathing.
Filmmaker Cameron was different. He used a specially designed submarine and dived nearly 11 kilometers. He has thus become the first person to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean, southwest of Guam, since a two-man U.S. Navy expedition did in 1960.
He spent time exploring and filming the Pacific trench, deeper than Mount Everest is tall. Earlier, Cameron, using a submersible craft, went down to 4,000 meters to the wreck of the Titanic dozens of times. Expectations are high among moviegoers for his upcoming "Avatar II" as he has reportedly endeavored to capture the landscape of deep sea.
The ocean accounts for 71 percent of the Earth’s surface. The sea below 1,000 meters constitute 60 percent of the entire surface, but 99 percent of it has remained unknown, just like space.
The unknowingness triggers our curiosity. But the ocean floor has also become a venue where major countries compete to secure valuable resources, possibly rare-earth minerals used in a variety of high-tech products.
It was a very symbolic event for Russia to plant its rust-proof titanium metal flag in 2007 on the seabed 4,200 meters below the North Pole to further its claims to the Arctic. Russia's claim to the Arctic, which is thought to contain oil, gas and mineral reserves, has been challenged by the United States, Canada and Denmark.
Japan and China also have manned submersibles capable of diving below 3,500 meters where mineral deposits are thought to reside.
In July last year, China’s three-person Jiaolong, its first manned deep-sea submersible, dived to more than 5,000 meters in the northeastern Pacific.
China has beefed up capabilities for deep-sea exploration in recent years as it is in long-running disputes with Asian nations over islands in the South China Sea. Some of them are strategically important and others are said to be rich in oil and gas reserves.
Beijing has also increased surveillance in waters surrounding South Korea’s submerged Ieodo reef, southwest of Jeju Island. Ieodo is located 149km southwest of Jeju, 287km east of China and 276km west of Japan. The Chinese move triggered a diplomatic rift between Seoul and Beijing over the reef on which South Korea has an elevated ocean research station.
Japan, on the other hand, has reiterated its claim to South Korea’s Dokdo islets in the East Sea. Tokyo approved three new high school textbooks claiming Dokdo, Tuesday. Japan identifies the rocky islets as a disputed land, apparently under a long-term plot to take the matter to an international court with a final goal of eventually taking over them.
When it comes to oceanic exploration, South Korea lags behind neighboring countries. Its Hemire is capable of going 6,000 meters underwater. But it is an unmanned submersible controlled by operators on a boat.