The “Titanic” and “Avatar” director, who last year completed the first solo dive to Challenger Deep, the world’s deepest point in the Mariana Trench, was the 2013 recipient of SIO’s Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. He accepted the prize at a ceremony and lecture at UCSD on May 31, only to turn around and donate the $25,000 prize money to the institution, along with a “lander” system, an extreme-depth exploration device Cameron used during his record-setting descent.
In a discussion in SIO’s “Lander Lab” prior to the award ceremony, Cameron talked about the important role the lander plays in gathering information about earth’s most little-known sites.
“My part and my submarine capture public imagination, but [the lander] is the true workhorse,” said Cameron, who was featured on the June cover of National Geographic for his historic dive. “A large part is done by this vehicle in terms of getting the science done. It’s very powerful.”
The lander, which was developed by Scripps engineer Kevin Hardy, includes an instrument frame, command and control spheres, empty camera spheres, buoyancy spheres, water and biological sampling systems and deck support gear. The instrument will be put to work immediately. Scripps marine microbiologist Doug Bartlett, who served as the chief scientist on Cameron’s expedition, said it may be used to collect samples of seawater, sediment, microbes and more in the Sirena Deep, one of the world’s deepest points, as early as this month.
“There’s a perception we’ve explored the entire planet, but that’s just wrong,” Cameron said. “The hadal depths (the deepest zones in the ocean) start below the abyssal depths, and if you took the area of all these trenches and added it up, it’s a greater area than North America.”
Asked if he was afraid to travel alone to such depths, Cameron said fear was not an option.
“If you think you’re going to be afraid, you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “I had apprehension, believe me, but I was too damn busy to think about it.”
National Geographic recorded Cameron’s dive in 3-D and plans to release a documentary about the excursion later this year.