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Discovery Magazine 5/1/2000

The Deep Places

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

In Genesis, when Moses told about how God created the Earth, he wrote that "darkness was on the face of the deep" (1:2). The Hebrew word Moses used for "deep" often is used to refer to an abyss within the oceans, or the extreme depths of the seas. The psalmist said that in God’s hand "are the deep places of the earth…the sea is His, for He made it" (95:3-5). The psalmist also wrote that "whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deep places" (135:6).

Humans always have been intrigued with such mysterious "deep places"—which is not surprising, considering that oceans cover around 72 percent of the Earth (336 million cubic miles of water that reaches an average depth of over 2 miles!). In 1873, the British ship,H.M.S. Challenger, discovered what now is known as the Mid-Oceanic Ridge—over 37,000 miles of underwater mountains! In 1951, the H.M.S. Challenger II discovered the deepest place on the planet—a spot named in its honor as the Challenger Deep.

Today, we have sophisticated means of researching the oceans. In the early 1930s, Otis Barton and William Beebe invented the bathysphere (bathys is Greek for "deep"), which was a tethered, hollow steel ball that took scientists 3,028 feet below the surface. In 1948, Auguste Piccard invented submersible vessels known as bathyscaphes, the most famous being the Trieste(which, in 1960, investigated the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench near Guam and dove to a depth of 35,800 feet—a world record that still stands). In 1964, Allyn Vine of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution developed a "deep submergence vehicle" (DSV) known as Alvin, which can dive to 14,764 feet. "Remotely operated vehicles" (ROVs), can go even deeper—but without people. The Japanese constructed an ROVknown as the Shinkai 6500 that can go deeper than any other craft in the world.

When we go into the "deep places," what do we find? In 1977, scientists working near the Galapagos Islands found thermal vents teeming with bacteria surrounded by peculiar, 8-inch-long tube-shaped worms and clams the size of dinner plates. We have discovered fish that can live at depths of 27,460 feet, organisms that light up like Times Square, bacteria that can live on hydrogen sulfide (a substance that is deadly for most life), and, of course, the fascinating 64-foot-long giant squid.

Who do we have to thank for all of these weird and wonderful creatures and sights that live in "the deep places"? The psalmist answered that question long ago when he wrote of God: "The sea is His, for He made it" (95:5). How grateful we should be to our great God for the oceans and their inhabitants.




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