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Sub vessel to attempt record-setting dive

By Wang Qian (China Daily)

08:44, February 13, 2012

BEIJING - High underwater pressure will be the greatest danger that Jiaolong, China's manned deep-sea vessel, will contend with when it attempts to make the deepest dive on record this year, a senior official said.

"Jiaolong will make a 7,000-meter test dive this year after several improvements are made to the submersible vessel," Jin Jiancai, secretary-general of the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association, said over the weekend.

Before attempting the record-breaking dive, the vessel will make a roughly 3,000-meter test dive in the South China Sea in March or April, he said.

He did not say when the 7,000-meter dive is to take place.

Underwater, pressure increases at the rate of one atmosphere for every 10 meters of depth. One atmosphere is equal to about 10 metric tons of force per square meter.

If the planned dive is successful, Jiaolong will have proven itself capable of reaching nearly any seabed in the world. China will also hold the record for performing the deepest dive, surpassing Japan, whose Shinkai 6500 dove 6,527 meters in August 1989.

Jiaolong - designed to reach a maximum depth of 7,000 meters - carried three people to 5,188 meters below sea level in a test dive in international waters in the northeastern Pacific Ocean last year, indicating the vessel is capable of reaching more than 70 percent of the planet's seabeds.

"If Jiaolong succeeds in the 7,000-meter dive, the vessel will play an important role in future scientific research and mineral exploration in the deep sea," said Tao Chunhui, professor of the Second Institute of Oceanography and chief scientist on the Chinese scientific research ship Dayang Yihao, or Ocean No 1.

According to the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) released by the State Oceanic Administration on Friday, China is working faster to build both a ship that will take deep-sea vessels to dive sites and another vessel that will conduct scientific research in the ocean and explore the underwater world.

Over the next 20 years, China will push its technical capabilities to catch up with advanced nations in conducting deep-sea research. Scientists say the ocean floor contains rich deposits of a range of potentially valuable minerals, but the extreme depths pose obstacles to gathering them.

Last year, China became the first country approved by the International Seabed Authority to look for polymetallic sulphide deposits, a recently discovered mineral source, in the Southwest Indian Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary on the floor of the Indian Ocean.

In 2001, the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association signed a 15-year contract with the seabed authority to search 150,000 square kilometers of seabed for polymetallic nodules, small rocks containing metal ore.

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