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Print Edition> Lifestyle
UPDATED: July 9, 2012 NO. 28 JULY 12, 2012
Old Man and the Sea
Uncovering the mysteries of the sea
By Tang Yuankai

Wang Pinxian (FILE)

People have always marveled at the majestic heights and grand stature of mountains. But others, like 76-year-old marine geologist Wang Pinxian, feel an even greater sense of awe at what lies in the vast depths of the planet's oceans.

Wang described the unfathomable scale of the sea, "Mount Everest is the highest peak on land with an altitude of 8,844 meters, while Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the ocean with a depth of 11,034 meters. Even the highest mountain cannot fill the deepest trench. The bottom of the ocean is too deep!"

Wang is an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and a senior professor of the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences at Tongji University based in Shanghai. Rather than retiring from the profession, he has chosen to continue his devotion to marine geology.

"Only by diving thousands of meters deep into the water can people see the real life of ocean and discover more about the Earth that we live on," Wang said. In his mind, the mysteries of the deep sea are closely related to the future of China and the rest of the world.

For several decades, Wang has dedicated himself to studying oceanography and promoting oceanic knowledge among the general public as well as persuading the government to pay more attention to marine research.

In recent years, China has achieved remarkable progress in exploring oceans. China's first manned deep-sea submersible Jiaolong set a new diving record by reaching a depth of 7,062 meters on June 27 in the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, making China the fifth country to possess deep-sea diving technology after the United States, France, Russia and Japan.

Wang regarded Jiaolong as a cutting-edge tool for deep-sea scientific research. "Without leading technology we cannot do further research of oceans. Technology and oceanography must develop together," he said.

Born in Shanghai in 1936, Wang devoted himself to the advancement of marine science in China from an early age. Following the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the government began sending students to the former Soviet Union for further study. In 1956, Wang was selected for study at Moscow State University, where he majored in geology. Wang graduated from the university in four years and returned to China.

Following graduation, Wang worked at East China Normal University as a teacher. When he heard about the government's plans for oil exploration in the ocean in 1968, he applied to the School of Ocean and Earth Science at Tongji University and was accepted into the program.

Wang and his team started their work from scratch. They turned a waste workshop into a laboratory, where a broken microscope and a Russian edition encyclopedia of paleontology were their only possessions.

Wang was then sent to the United States with a dozen other delegates from the Chinese geological circle. He was shocked by the leading position of American scientists' research into the deep ocean and micropaleontology. After returning to China, Wang and his colleagues published an academic study titled Marine Micropaleontology of China. The book immediately aroused the interest of scientists worldwide, laying a foundation for closer communication between Chinese and foreign oceanographers.

In 1985, the United States launched the Ocean Development Program (ODP), which was co-sponsored by a group of countries. Despite the lack of funds, Wang persuaded China to join in the plan in 1998 at a membership fee of $500,000 per year. In Wang's opinion, the global scientific project was crucial to China's progress in the study of oceans.

Exploring endeavor

Wang considers the South China Sea a treasure for marine and climate scientists' studies.

The South China Sea is an extended continental shelf of the Chinese mainland. Detailed climate records of the last 45 million years are ingrained at the bottom of the sea. The area is also an intersection of many ocean currents, which greatly influence the global monsoon system, Wang said.

"There are over 200 islands and reefs in the South China Sea, including Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha islands. China has indisputable sovereignty over these islands. Therefore, it is the job and duty of Chinese scientists to research and explore them," Wang said.

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