Image: Deepsea Challenger
Mark Thiessen / National Geographic
The Deepsea Challenger submersible reaches the bottom of the Pacific at a depth of 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) off the coast of the tiny island of Ulithi, part of Micronesia. The picture was taken by the unmanned lander DOV Mike.
OurAmazingPlanet
updated 4/7/2012 2:10:26 PM ET 2012-04-07T18:10:26

James Cameron's deep-diving team has been keeping busy.

Just days after the filmmaker plunged more than 35,756 feet (10,890 meters) into the Pacific Ocean to the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth, his team piloted Cameron's innovative submersible to yet another deep-sea spot.

This time, members of the expedition took Cameron's lime-green Deepsea Challenger to a depth of 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) off the coast of the tiny island of Ulithi, part of Micronesia.

The spot isn't far from place where Cameron made his historic dive on March 26, although it is only about a tenth as deep.

The image of the Cameron's Deepsea Challenger was taken by an unmanned seafloor "lander" — a large contraption that is baited, hoisted over the side of a ship and dropped to the seafloor. Once it's on the bottom, bait ideally lures seafloor creatures, and the lander's suite of instruments can take samples, photographs and data.

Cameron was slated to have a lander by his side during his Mariana Trench dive, but the plan was scuttled because of various mechanical problems, so Cameron went down to the bottom without any robot companions.

He spent about three hours in the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of the Mariana Trench. Humans had visited the deepest spot on the planet only once before, in 1960.

"It looked like the moon," Cameron told reporters with the National Geographic Society, co-sponsors of the mission, along with Swiss watchmaker Rolex.

"I didn't see a fish ... I didn't find anything that looked alive to me, other than a few amphipods in the water," Cameron told reporters upon his return.

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In the image released this week, things are a little more lively. A long, eel-like fish can be seen swimming in front of the Deepsea Challenger, and what looks like a cylindrical, translucent sea creature clings to the seafloor.

Scientists aboard the expedition's vessel say the submersible has collected many interesting samples from the seafloor over the course of 13 dives between Jan. 31 and April 3, but that now the long work of analyzing them begins.

Story: James Cameron sees 'another planet' in the deepest sea

In a follow-up interview with National Geographic, Cameron said "we really need to go back and explore the size of the trench more." The next dive to the Mariana Trench will be more science-focused, he said, and will probably be taken by someone else on the expedition team.

"I'd love to continue with the dives, but I'm not sure that if I'm making 'Avatar' 2 and 3 over the next few years I'm going to have much time," he said.

This report was supplemented by msnbc.com.

Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanetand on Facebook.

© 2012 OurAmazingPlanet. All rights reserved. More from OurAmazingPlanet.

Video: James Cameron first solo dive to reach ocean’s deepest point

  1. Closed captioning of: James Cameron first solo dive to reach ocean’s deepest point

    >>> the film director james cameron of titanic fame is famous for his epic movies . he's also a real-life adventurer, and today, he completed a big one. the first solo trip to the deepest part of the ocean, almost seven miles down below the surface of the pacific. his story from mike taibbi .

    >> for the 57-year-old director, his ride for the trip was a lime green custom designed one man subhe called his vertical torpedo. able to withstand an incredible eight tons of pressure per square inch . it took him to the marianna trench. the very bottom of the pacific ocean floor, some 200 miles west of guam. for cameron and the national geographic society , it was a journey into one of the planet's enduring mysteries.

    >> jacques cousteau used to say, if we knew what was there, we wouldn't have to go.

    >> he nor his cameras saw any signs of life .

    >> my feeling was one of complete isolation from all life.

    >> starting with the abyss about a dive team's rescue of a disabled nuclear sub and through titanic and then avatar, he's indulged in an unlimited curiosity. he was thrilled to be the first to make the trip solely. in 1960 , a two-man team in a more primitive navvy sub had done so. and since he had already made over 70 descents in subs, he didn't need to parrot a line from one of his famous movies --

Explainer: 10 secrets of the deep ocean

  • Mark Spear / Woods Hole Oceanogr

    The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth's surface, yet their depths remain largely unknown. It's a frontier that scientists are racing to explore using tools such as the deep-ocean submersible Alvin, shown here. Click the "Next" arrow above to learn about 10 deep-ocean secrets that have come to light.

  • Deep-ocean octopuses have Antarctic origins

    Image: Megaleledon setebos
    Census of Marine Life

    Many deep ocean octopuses trace their origins back to relatives that swam in the waters around Antarctica. The migration began about 30 million years ago when the continent cooled and large ice sheets grew, forcing octopuses there into ever deeper waters. The climate shift also created a northbound flow of deep, cold water that carried the cephalopods to new habitats. As they adapted to new niches, new species evolved. Many lost their defensive ink sacs because the pitch-black ocean depths required no camouflage screen. The species known as Megaleledon setebos, shown here, is the closest living relative of the deep-sea octopuses' common ancestor.

  • 'Brittlestar City' found on undersea mountain

    Census Of Marine Life  /  AP

    The orange and red starfish relatives called brittlestars have managed to defy the odds and colonize the flanks of a giant, underwater peak on the Macquarie Ridge, an 870-mile-long underwater mountain range that stretches south from New Zealand to just short of the Antarctic Circle. The peak, known as a seamount, juts up into a swirling circumpolar current that flows by at 2.5 miles per hour, delivering ample food for the brittlestars to grab while sweeping away fish and other would-be predators. Another brittlestar species has settled on the seamount's flat summit, a habitat normally settled by corals and sponges.

  • Deep Antarctic waters, cradle of marine life

    Wiebke Brokeland / GCMB

    This pale crustacean from the genus Cylindrarcturus is one of more than 700 species new to science found scurrying, scampering and swimming in the frigid waters between 2,000 and 21,000 feet below the surface of the Weddell Sea off Antarctica. The discoveries were part of a research project to determine how species at different depths are related to each other there, and to other creatures around the world. "The Antarctic deep sea is potentially the cradle of life of the global marine species," team leader Angelika Brandt, an expert from the Zoological Institute and Zoological Museum at the University of Hamburg, said in a statement announcing the discoveries.

  • Northernmost black smokers discovered

    Credit: Center for Geobiology/U. of Bergen

    Scientists working deep inside the Arctic Circle have discovered a cluster of five hydrothermal vents, also known as black smokers, which spew out liquid as hot as 570 degrees Fahrenheit. The vents are 120 miles further north than the closest known vents, which tend to occur where the seafloor spreads apart at a quicker pace. This image shows the arm of a remotely operated vehicle reaching out to sample fluids billowing from the top three feet of the tallest vent, which reaches four stories off the seafloor. The chimney is covered with white bacteria that feast on the freshly delivered minerals.

  • Black smoker fossils hint at life's beginnings

    Timothy Kusky / Gondwana Research

    The discovery of primitive bacteria on 1.43 billion-year-old black-smoker fossils – a crosscut is shown here – unearthed from a Chinese mine adds weight to the idea that life may have originated in deep-sea hydrothermal vents, according to geologist Timothy Kusky at Saint Louis University. The ancient microbe dined on metal sulfide that lined the fringes of the chimneys. The oldest-known life forms on Earth are 3.5 billion-year-old clumps of bacteria found in Western Australia. That find suggested that shallow seas, not the deep oceans, were the birthplace of life. Neither discovery, however, serves as the definitive answer about life's origins.

  • Microbes feast on ocean-bottom crust

    Image: Basalt rocks
    NOAA/WHOI

    Once thought barren and sparsely populated, the deep-ocean floor is home to rich and diverse communities of bacteria. In fact, scientists have found that the seafloor contains three to four times more bacteria than the waters above, raising the question of how the organisms survive. Lab analyses suggest that chemical reactions with the rocks themselves provide the fuel for life. The discovery is another tantalizing hint that life could have originated in the ocean depths. In a statement about the find, the University of Southern California's Katrina Edwards said: "I hope that people turn their heads and notice: There's life down there."

  • Where do deep-sea fish go to spawn?

    Harbor Branch / E.widder

    Life in the dark, cold and vast depths of the sea was long thought to be lonely for the few fish that dared eke out an existence there, mostly from organic detritus that sinks from shallower waters. That picture began to change in 2006, when researchers probing the Mid-Atlantic Ridge discovered that fishes may occasionally gather at features such as seamounts to spawn. The evidence for these gatherings comes from the sheer volume of fish collected at seamounts – much higher than would have been expected if the fish were purely nomadic wanderers. What's more, images made from acoustical "scatterings" are suggestive of a massive fish aggregation. The 35-pound anglerfish shown here is one of the rare species hauled up from the deep during the project.

  • Colossal squid has, well, colossal eyes

    Image: New Zealand colossal squid
    Ross Setford  /  AP

    What did you expect? Would a colossal squid have anything but eyes big enough to generate a few over-the-top superlatives? Probably not - but still, when researchers thawed out this squid in New Zealand, the wow factor was undeniable. The creature's eye measured about 11 inches across; its lens was the size of an orange. Scientists suspect the big eye allows the huge squid to capture a lot of light in the dark depths in which it hunts. The squid weighed about 1,000 pounds when caught in the Antarctic's Ross Sea and measured 26 feet long. Scientists believe the species, which can descend to 6,500 feet, may grow as long as 46 feet.

  • Deep-sea corals record history

    Image: Scuba divers collect coral samples
    Rob Dunba  /  Stanford University

    Some coral reefs are found thousands of feet below the ocean surface, where they have grown amid frigid waters for millennia. Like tree rings, they serve as a faithful archive of global environmental change, according to Robert Dunbar, a professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University. His team travels the world to collect samples of these corals, such as this one from a colony near Easter Island. In 2007, the team published a 300-year archive of soil erosion in Kenya, as recorded by coral samples collected from the bottom of the Indian Ocean. They are now analyzing 4,000-year-old corals discovered off Hawaii to create an archive of climate change.

  • Trawling destruction visible from space

    Sky Truth

    Some scientists are working urgently to expose more secrets of the deep ocean before unexplored treasures are plundered. Their biggest concern is the fishing practice known as bottom trawling. This image shows the billowing plumes of sediment left in the wake of trawlers dragging giant nets across the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. The practice has been shown to strip coral reefs bare and ravage underwater ecosystems such as seamounts, where thousands of species are known to gather. Though the practice is increasingly restricted, tens of thousands of trawlers continue to ply the deep oceans.

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