'Sea dragon' ventures 5,000m below sea to find jewels of the deep

China leads the way as discovery of rare-earth metals on floor of the Pacific Ocean triggers race to the bottom

A A A

China has boldly gone where few nations have gone before. It has sent a manned submersible vessel to a depth of 5,000 metres below the sea in its attempt to dominate the scientific exploration of the mineral-rich seabed. The Jiaolong, China's first manned deep-sea submersible craft, has reached a depth of 5,057 metres (16,591ft) in the second of four planned programmes of dives that may take it as deep as 7,000 metres next year – deeper than the 6,500-metre record for civilian research submersibles set by Japan in 1990.

The 8.2-metre long Jiaolong, which means "sea dragon", carries a crew of three and weighs nearly 22 tonnes. The vessel represents China's ambitious attempt to match the technological prowess of the four main deep-sea diving nations – the US, Russia, France and Japan.

This week's dive means that China is now theoretically capable of reaching 70 per cent of the ocean floor, but if the Jiaolong reaches its designed depth of 7,000 metres in 2012, it will be able to cover more than 99 per cent of the global seabed, experts said. Much of the deep sea floor is totally unexplored, but scientists believe there may be rich deposits of minerals and precious metals, especially around hydrothermal vents on the seabed where hot plumes cause the build-up of mineral-rich "chimneys", first photographed by the American submersible Alvin in 1979.

Japanese researchers recently announced the discovery of large deposits of rare-earth metals on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Such elements are essential for the micro-electronics industry and China already accounts for more than 95 per cent of the world's production.

China started work on developing the Jiaolong in 2002. It took six years to complete the construction of both the vessel and its mother ship, involving about 100 institutions and companies from around the world. The Jiaolong's record dive received wide coverage by the state-controlled media in China where commentators there compared the feat to recent Chinese achievements in manned space flight.

"It will pave [the] way for a record-breaking 7,000-metre test dive in 2012," Wang Fei, deputy director of the State Oceanic Administration told the Xinhua news agency. "The purpose of this diving programme is to find problems with the Jiaolong and improve it constantly. At a depth of 5,000 metres, the Jiaolong withstood great pressure amounting to 5,000 tonnes per square metre," he said.

The Jiaolong is diving in international waters in the north Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and North America.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Head of Offshore Operations & Interfaces

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Engineering Design Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices