Swiss oceanographer and engineer Jacques Piccard,known for having developed underwater vehicles for studying ocean currents diedon Saturday 1st November, aged 86.
He is one of only two people,along with Lt. Don Walsh of US Navy, to have explored in 1960 the deepest pointof the world’s oceans, and the deepest location on the surface of the Earth’scrust, the Challenger Deep, in the MarianaTrench located in the western North Pacific Ocean.
Jacques sought financial help from the U.S. Navy,which at that time was exploring various ways for designing submarines forunderwater research. Jacques was enthusiastically welcomed to the U.S. fordemonstrating his bathyscaphe, now named the Trieste. Impressed by his designs, the U.S. Navybought the vessel and hired Piccard as a consultant. Recognizing the strategicvalue of a workable submersible for submarine salvage and rescue, the Navybegan testing the Triestefor greater depths. With his Trieste able to reachdepths as far as 24,000 feet, Piccard and his colleagues planned on a evengreater challenge-a voyage to the bottom of the sea. On 23 January 1960,Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh reached the ocean floor in the Challenger Deepwith his bathyscaphe Trieste. The depth of the descent was measuredat 10,916 meters (35,813 feet); later, more accurate, measurements in 1995 havefound the Challenger Deep to be slightly less deep at 10,911 m (35,797 ft). Thedescent took almost five hours and the two men spent barely twenty minutes onthe ocean floor before undertaking the 3 hour 15 minute ascent.The bathyscaphe carried no equipment and planned no experiments; the mission’s purpose wasmerely to prove that the depth could be reached. The descent progressed withoutincident until 30,000 feet, when the crew heard a loud crack. They continuedthe dive, however, finally touching down in “snuff-colored ooze” at35,800 feet.
They were 27 times deeper than could be achieved bya conventional submarine, and remained there for 20 minutes, observing by thelight of their lamps a shrimp-like creature and a white flat fish similar to asole. They then returned to the surface. Piccard described the expedition inhis book Seven Miles Down (1961), written with Robert Deitz. Piccard also invented and built several”mesoscaphes”, vessels for use at medium depths which were unveiledas “the world’s first tourist submarines”. During the Swiss NationalExhibition in 1964 Piccard took 33,000 passengers into the depths of Lake Geneva. He continued taking children into the lakeuntil he was in his seventies. In 1969 Piccard was in the mesoscaphe whichtravelled for four weeks, at a depth of 1,000ft, from the coast of Florida to Nova Scotia. The aim was to study the features of the Gulf Stream; also, Nasa was interested in the feasibilityof men living in space, in contained environments, for prolonged periods. In the 1970s Piccard formed the Foundation forthe Study and Preservation of Seas and Lakes and began warning about thedangers of pollution and overfishing. He continued to develop and buildsubmersibles. He made his last dive aged 82.
Jacques Piccard married, in 1953, Marie-ClaudeMaillard, with whom he had two sons and a daughter; their son, Bertrand,completed the first non-stop round-the-world balloon trip – with the BritonBrian Jones – in 1999.