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Bryanston Science Society explores the ocean depths

On 14 November the Science Society welcomed Dr Jon Copley, an Associate Professor in Marine Ecology at Southampton University and also the current British record holder for the individual who has dived deepest under the ocean.  

Dr Copley’s talk, the third of this term’s Science Society lectures, was about life at the bottom of the deep oceans, which cover half of the planet but appear very alien to us on the surface.  In particular he discussed his discoveries of new species around geothermal vents caused by the separation of tectonic plates.  He even brought some preserved examples of crabs and shrimps from these exotic locations and a sample of solidified lava from the seabed that we could pass around and touch.  

Expeditions mean living and working on a ship for months at a time and recent exploration has included the East Scotia Ridge near South Georgia.  The main tool used is a remotely controlled submarine about the size of a car which can dive to 6,500m.  It stays at depth for a long time powered by an umbilical cable and controlled by scientists on board the ship.  While exploring the Cayman trench Dr Copley also used a manned submarine.  The sub is not connected to the ship and is battery powered, limiting the time it can be used.  The pressure inside is kept at 1 atmosphere while the pressure outside is thousands of times greater.  The cabin is a perfect sphere of thick titanium to withstand the pressure.  Looking through a porthole offers opportunities to explore that are not possible with a remote controlled camera.  

During the talk Dr Copley also revealed some of the technical developments made possible by this research including new optical fibres, cancer drugs and low temperature biological washing powders.  He finished with a statement that was evidently true from all we had seen and heard, that this research offers the chance to explore the unknown in a way that few scientific fields can.