Russia is joining the race to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean crevice on Earth, famous explorer Artur Chilingarov has said.
Chilingarov, the deputy head of Russia's Geographic Society, is mostly associated with the Kremlin's Arctic ambitions. He told a Moscow news conference on Monday that three design bureaus were working on submarines able to dive to the lowest points of the trench, which plunges nearly 11 kilometers down.
His comments come a month after Russia claimed to have penetrated a vast Antarctic sub-glacial lake which is believed to have remained untouched by man for at least 14 million years.
But Yury Konovalov, a chief engineer at St. Petersburg's Malakhit design bureau, said the submarine project was still in the draft stage.
"It is no secret that funding is needed to pursue such projects," Konovalov told RIA Novosti. "We're no worse than foreigners, but funding is essential."
The two other bureaus declined to comment.
At its deepest, the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific extends down to 10,994 meters, Jim Gardner, a U.S. marine geologist who has spent the last five years mapping its seafloor, said in e-mailed comments. At that depth, the pressure is 1,000 times that at sea level.
The world's first - and still only - manned voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench was made by Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Captain Don Walsh in January 1960. They spent just 20 minutes at the ocean floor. The landing stirred up so much bottom sediment that peering out of the porthole was like "looking in a bowl of milk," Walsh said in a BBC documentary last month.
And today, Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron is about to become the third human ever to challenge the record-breaking depth.
Cameron's is one of four U.S. teams currently racing to make it down to the world's deepest spot, and he looks very likely to clinch it.
The Abyss and Titanic director, known for his passion for ocean exploration, set sail for the trench on Tuesday morning and is now waiting for calm seas to begin his nine-hour dive, the BBC reported.
Cameron has said he plans to spend six hours in the bright green one-man submarine, called the Deepsea Challenger, filming his voyage from the surface all the way to the bottom.
"Every single dive, I'm going to see something no one's ever seen before," Cameron told the BBC. "I'm going to do my best to image it, light it properly, bring it back in 3D - grab samples if I can, grab rocks if I can."
"We are there to do science, but we are also there to take the average person who only imagines these things and show them what it is really like," he said.
But while it is true that the Mariana Trench is the deepest place on Earth, that may actually be all it is, Dr Alan Jamieson, from Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen, told RIA Novosti.
"It does not necessarily represent what happens in all deep trenches," Jamieson said. "It's the only trench which is really far away from landmass, therefore the food supply into that trench is very low."
Jamieson said scientific research of the Mariana Trench would only make sense if the same experiment was repeated in four other trenches that are deeper than 10,000 meters.
"The difference between the trenches and most other deep sea habitats is that the trenches are very isolated from one another," Jamieson said. "They all have different hydrology, different food input, different species, different latitudes, different temperatue."
However, studying of the deep sea is essential, Jamieson said.
"You have to look at the ocean in its entirety, not just the top few hundred meters. We now know that on the deeper planes close to 5,000 meters there is still a cascading effect of a changing climate, so what happens in the deep sea is not a static remote environment completely removed from everything that happens on the atmosphere."