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UPDATED: September 19, 2010 NO. 38 SEPTEMBER 23, 2010
Exploring Beneath the Waves
A China-made manned submersible has reached a depth of 3,759 meters

DRAGON OUT OF SEA: Manned submersible Jiaolong surfaces after a successful diving test in the South China Sea in July 2010 By (XINHUA)

The first China-designed and developed manned submersible Jiaolong has successfully completed its work in manned tests, diving to 3,000 meters under the waves, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said at a press conference on August 26. With a deepest dive to 3,759 meters, Jiaolong surpassed the average ocean depth, 3,682 meters. It also established a record by operating underwater for 9 hours and 3 minutes.

A project study is under way for the building of a national deep-sea base in the coastal area of Qingdao in Shandong Province to provide ground services for manned submersibles.

Jiaolong is designed to dive as deep as 7,000 meters below sea level, and can operate in 99.8 percent of the world's sea areas. It will take 5 hours to reach 7,000 meters below sea level from the ocean surface, and can work for as long as 12 hours underwater.

In the future, Jiaolong will take on various complex missions, such as carrying scientists and engineers into deep sea to carry out scientific investigation and exploration of oceanic ridges, basins and submarine hydrothermal vents. It will also conduct submarine prospecting and high-precision topographic surveys, detect and capture suspicious objects, lay fixed underwater equipment, detect submarine cables and pipelines, as well as undertake general deep-sea inquiries and salvage operations.

"A manned submersible provides a powerful tool for scientists to carry out all kinds of research unavailable in laboratories by taking them directly to deep seas," said Peng Xiaotong, a research fellow with the National Marine Geological Laboratory at Shanghai-based Tongji University. He has been taken twice to the Northeast Pacific Ocean ridge for scientific investigations by U.S. submersible Alvin.

An innovation

China began to work on an ambitious ocean exploration program in 2002. In order to promote the development of China's deep-sea delivery technology, in 2002, the Ministry of Science and Technology launched the Jiaolong Project as part of the State Hi-Tech Development Program (863 Program). This project was designed to provide important hi-tech equipment for China's seabed ocean resources surveys and scientific research, as well as develop generic technology for deep-sea exploration and sea floor operations.

After six years of joint efforts involving in scientists from about 100 research institutes and enterprises all over the country, China eventually overcame a series of technical difficulties in the deep-sea technology field. These included the development of manned submersible bodies, completion of water support systems and transformation of testing vessels, as well as selection and training of oceanauts. Taken together these provided the technical know-how for carrying out undersea tests.

Since August 2009, Jiaolong has successively been tested at 1,000 meters and 3,000 meters below sea level. In the South China Sea test from May 31 to July 18, 2010, Jiaolong completed 17 dives. Seven surpassed 2,000 meters and four reached as deep as 3,000 meters. The deepest reached 3,759 meters.

In just 11 months, China completed a significant leap in manned dive tests from zero to 3,700 meters. The successful testing made China the fifth country in the world to possess the technology for manned dives to more than 3,500 meters below sea level, following the United States, Russia, France and Japan. The tests have also fully verified the functionality and the technical capability of Jiaolong, laying a solid foundation for practical application of scientific research and greater depth of testing—as well as resource surveys.

"For deep-sea scientific research, a manned submersible is like a car in daily traffic. Its practical significance is in enabling scientists to carry out research activities freely between 2,000 and 3,000 meters below sea level. A submersible can be seen as the lonely pioneer in deep-sea exploration," said Wang Pinxian, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chairman of China Marine Research Commission.

Jia Yu, a research fellow with the China Institute for Marine Affairs, said, "Deep-sea technology is considered an innovative and high-end technology as important as space and nuclear technologies."

Jiaolong's features

Different from other submersibles, Jiaolong has a unique hovering and locating ability, which enables it to adjust easily and stably to planned work. Other submersibles have to find fixed support points when starting to work. Undoubtedly, Jiaolong takes a leading position in this field.

In addition, Jiaolong also possesses advanced micro-acoustic communication and undersea topography detection capabilities, enabling high-speed transmission of images and voice and detection of small marine targets. Jiaolong is also equipped with a variety of high-performance tools enabling it to complete complex tasks such as on-the-spot sampling and core-drilling in specific marine environments and geological conditions.

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