BANGKOK: When Dr Deo Florence Onda discovered himself greater than 10,000m under the floor, within the third deepest trench on the planet, he was looking out for mysteries hidden within the darkness.
The Emden Deep, a part of the Philippine Trench, is considered one of Earth’s closing frontiers, an unexplored part of one of many oldest seabeds on this planet. Until simply a few months in the past, no human had ever been there.
The 33-12 months-outdated microbial oceanologist from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute considers himself “very adventurous” – regardless of being from the tropics, he accomplished his doctoral research on the North Pole. But this was one thing totally totally different.
Deep-sea adventures are uncommon and complicated, making them akin to venturing into outer area.
“The feeling itself, no one can prepare for it. You don’t know what to expect. It was really the mental preparation, being in a small submersible without freaking out while you’re diving and saying goodbye to the world,” he recounted.
Over a 12-hour interval in March, Onda and American explorer Victor Vescovo from Caladan Oceanic, a non-public organisation devoted to advancing undersea expertise, descended and explored the ditch, hoping for only a glimpse of life under.
“If you look at the Philippine Trench, the first description was in the 1950s and then the more detailed one was in the 1970s. The technology then was not that good yet, or accurate. It was an opportunity for us to see what’s happening down there, which has never been seen before,” Onda mentioned.
“When we were about to reach the bottom I was expecting to see scary, crawling things sneaking in or peeking into the windows.”
Instead, what greeted them within the depths was one thing way more acquainted – one thing that had additionally travelled from above the floor.
“There was one funny scene when we were exploring the area. There was one white material floating around. I was saying ‘Victor, that’s a jellyfish’. We went there and approached and it was just plastic.
“The only unusual thing there was the garbage. There was a lot of garbage in the trench. There were a lot of plastics, a pair of pants, a shirt, a teddy bear, packaging and a lot of plastic bags. Even me, I did not expect that, and I do research on plastics,” he mentioned.
“Seeing it for the first time was a privilege as a human being, representing 106 million Filipinos and billions of people of the world. But being a witness to the extent of pollution, and being a witness to the gravity of the plastics problem from the surface to the bottom of the ocean, is another thing.
“It becomes my responsibility to tell people that their garbage doesn’t stay where they put it. It goes somewhere else and it will sink.”
What was initially deliberate to be a scientific analysis mission needed to be modified to a purely document-setting journey, because of the COVID pandemic and bureaucratic difficulties in securing permission for additional deepwater examine.
Still, he mentioned this endeavour gave him fascinating insights and a platform to element the problems dealing with the deep-sea atmosphere, an space that’s troublesome to analysis within the Philippines resulting from logistics and prices.
Onda’s essential analysis focus is on the life cycle and function of microorganisms, resembling phytoplankton, which assist produce oxygen and are among the many essential drivers of power and biomass construct-up within the marine ecosystem.
The discovery of plastic within the trench was stunning for Onda, who is worried that the transboundary nature of plastic unfold within the oceans is having unknown however profound penalties on marine ecosystems, and in impact, on the very foundations of life on the planet.
“Microorganisms are the main drivers of carbon storage, which then drives climate change. When phytoplankton consume carbon, taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they convert it into particulate organic matter that sinks to the bottom of the ocean and gets stored for millions of years,” he mentioned.
“We actually do not know the extent of biodiversity in these deep-sea environments. We do not know yet the full extent of their roles in terms of biogeochemical processes, how they regulate the weather and the climate. But we are already changing it. I don’t see it stopping soon.”
Studies present that the deeper layers of the ocean are warming at a slower tempo than the floor. Yet for wildlife and organisms in these environments, publicity to local weather warming could also be extra extreme and pose better dangers.
Meantime, how trash reaches essentially the most distant depths, by means of varied totally different water densities and nice distances, nonetheless requires extra analysis. But it’s proof that the ocean is a continuum the place impacts know no boundaries.
While Onda needs he may have learnt extra from his journey, he admits it was nonetheless an unparalleled likelihood to advertise Philippine science and deepen his personal understanding of the area.
“As an oceanographer and professor myself, most of the things I teach in the books were made by western scholars. But seeing it myself was like a fairytale … each and every page of my oceanography book coming into reality,” he mentioned.
“I was seeing how light dissipates with depth. I was seeing how pressure increases which then decreases temperatures and all of these physics and chemistry and biology of oceanography coming into reality. It was a fantasy for me.”