Dive of a Lifetime - Dr. Dawn Wright

The Dive of a Lifetime to the Deepest Place on Earth

Monday, April 10, 2023 - 7:00 pm
Buyse Lecture Hall (Meyer Science Center)
This event is free and open to the public.
For more information, call 630.752.5627 or email the Natural Sciences Division.

On July 12, 2022, Dawn Wright journeyed in the deep submergence vehicle Limiting Factor to the previously unvisited southern edge of the Western Pool of Challenger Deep – 10,919 m below sea level. During the dive, Dawn and undersea explorer Victor Vescovo operated the first full-ocean-depth sidescan sonar to be installed and operated on a submersible. Other highlights of the dive included visual observation of deep-sea lifeforms such as hadal anemones and hydroids, and special geologic features associated with the tectonic nature of Challenger Deep.


Dr. Dawn WrightDr. Dawn Wright (’83 Geology) is Chief Scientist of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (aka Esri), a world-leading geographic information system (GIS) software and data science company. Wheaton students are trained in GIS using Esri’s ArcMap software. As Chief Scientist, Dawn is responsible for strengthening the scientific foundation for Esri software and services, while representing Esri to the international scientific community. As such, she has served on many advisory boards including the NOAA and EPA Science Advisory Boards, the National Academy of Sciences Ocean Studies Board, and the Science Advisory Boards of Conservation International, COMPASS Science Communication, and the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. Dawn is also Professor of Geography and Oceanography at Oregon State University. She has been elected to both the National Academies of Sciences and of Engineering, as well as the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She enjoys road cycling, 18th-century pirates, her dog Riley, and SpongeBob Squarepants. She has been featured as a LEGO minifig and in a set of trading cards! Follow her on Twitter @deepseadawn

Presentation Abstract

I’m pleased to present the results of Caladan Oceanic Dive #115 (July 12, 2022) of the 2-person, full-ocean-depth deep submergence vehicle Limiting Factor to the previously unvisited southern edge of the Western Pool of Challenger Deep. The maximum observed seafloor depth on the dive was 10,919 m below mean sea level. A major objective of the dive was a technological proof-of-concept operation of the first full-ocean-depth sidescan sonar to be installed and operated on a submersible, and for well beyond the standard commercial limitation of 6,000 m.

On Dive #115 we were successful in capturing six lines of quality data at depths ranging from 10,909 to 10,680 m, while traversing steeply dipping slopes along the south wall of the Western pool. We also noted by visual inspection massive talus piles of angular, blocky basalt and serpentinized peridotite boulders indicative of tectonic erosion, all amply coated with sediments, likely funneled in from multiple fault lineaments and fault-controlled canyons. Hadal anemones (Galatheanthemum sp.) and hydroids were also sighted often.

In addition, the mission included the deployment of two of Caladan Oceanic’s autonomous, free-fall lander vehicles, Flere and Closp, both rated to full-ocean-depth. Their cameras captured footage of various biota at ~7,369 m and ~10,900 m.

Dive #115 was widely reported by media, including CBS News.