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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dwelling deep into the Ocean - Jiaolong !

One may not understand what  “Jiaolong” means – sure it sounds Chinese and perhaps something very deep rooted.  Mankind has been attracted to Ocean and sea voyage since ages.  The vast spread ocean offers great challenges to the adventurous sailors who set their sail on boats and yachts for conquering the world.  It is not only the expanse of the sea but also its depth that are unfathomable.

Today (26th July 11) there is news of China's most advanced deep-sea submersible conquering  its way to new depths.  China began to work on the ambitious ocean exploration programme in 2002. About 100 research institutes and companies were involved in the project.  The resultant machine, named after an ancient Chinese mythological sea dragon is being closely watched for its mining and military potential as well as its capabilities for scientific research.  The submersible reportedly  has a special titanium hull to withstand the crushing pressures of the deep ocean.   The submersible is about 8 meters long, three meters wide, and 3 meters high. It weighs nearly 22 tons, but can only carry a crew of three -- one diver and two researchers. It has the capability of operating underwater for 12 straight hours.  This gives the machine access to 99.8 per cent of the world's ocean floor and the capability of harnessing mineral wealth.

The vessel is named ‘Jiaolong’ and  was part of the national high technology research development plan, also known as the 863 Plan. More than half of its parts and components were made in China. 96 experts from 13 institutions involved in the research and manufacturing of the watercraft were aboard the Jiaolong's mother ship, Xiangyanghong 9.

To many of us, ships are indeed wonderful objects – huge and tons of steel, still float on sea – circumnavigating from Country to Country transporting men and more importantly material that smothers World Trade.  If the law of floatation itself is too complex, then there is more to wonder – ship that can go under the water and raise at will.  A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water.  Those with limited underwater capability are known as ‘submersible’ to which category our captioned Jiaolong would fall under.   The term submarine most commonly refers to a large crewed autonomous vessels.  The word submarine was originally an adjective meaning "under the sea"; consequently other uses such as "submarine engineering" or "submarine cable" may not actually refer at all to the vessel.  Submarine was in fact shortened from the proper term, "submarine boat", and is often further shortened to "sub" when the word is employed informally. Submarines should always be referred to as "boats" rather than as "ships", regardless of their size. The English term U-boat for a German submarine comes from the German word for submarine, U-Boot, itself an abbreviation for Unterseeboot ("undersea boat").

There have been well experimented designs of submarine from 19th century adopted by many Navies.  They were widely used during WW I.  They can spring surprise and destroy enemy surface installations of high significance and large armed vessels also.   There are some used for civilian purposes marine science, salvage, exploration etc.,  Most of them are of cylindrical bodies with  hemispherical (and/or conical) ends and a vertical structure, usually located amidships, which houses communications and sensing devices as well as periscopes.

These  Submarines are known to operate at depths in the range of 400–500 feet (120–150 m) and can house around 50 – 100 people.   There reportedly exists some submarines of drug smugglers known as narco boats.  Perhaps there has been some drift as this article is more about the Chinese made manned submersible vessel designed to dive to a depth of 7,000 meters which  has successfully completed trial operations.  Going by Marine reports, this submersible, dubbed "Jiaolong", completed 17 dives in the South China Sea from May 31 to July 18, with the deepest reaching 3,759 meters.  The feat makes China the fifth country, following the United States, France, Russia and Japan, to have the technologies for a manned dive to more than 3,500 meters below sea level,  according to the Ministry of Science and Technology and the State Oceanic Administration (SOA).

Recently, it created history  by operating underwater for nine hours and three minutes.  Jiaolong is a submersible  which differs from a submarine as it typically depends on another vessel or facility for support.  If operationally successful the manned vehicle designed to reach 7,000 meters below sea level in the world,  can be used in 99.8 per cent of the world's sea area and would probably represent  the most advanced technology in deep-sea exploration.  Earlier,  manned submersibles could only descend to 6,500 meters below sea level.  Now there are reports that  Jiaolong, with a crew of three, dived 17 times from May 31 to July 18 in the South ChinaSea, going below 3,000 meters four times. The deepest it reached was 3,759 meters.

In an experiment when it landed on the seafloor, it placed the Chinese flag and a sign depicting the legendary dragon's palace onto the seabed with a robotic arm.  On 26th July, the vessel reached 5,057 metres below sea level in a test dive in international waters of the northeastern Pacific, the official Xinhua news agency said.  The feat is still not half as deep of the record 1960 dive of US Navy but puts China on a deeper horizon than other Nations could imagine and can only envy.  The US Navy had  reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench – the deepest point in the world’s oceans at 11,000 metres – in 1960.

Reportedly lacking experience, now they have conducted enough trials and are targeting a depth of 7000 meter goal.  It is claimed that the submersible development is aimed at scientific research to help with the peaceful exploration and utilization of natural resources.  Scientists say the ocean’s floors contain rich deposits of a range of potentially valuable minerals, but the extreme depths pose technical difficulties in harvesting them on a wide scale.  It might take years to reach the riches but perhaps the beginning has already been made.  The SOA was quoted as saying that the submersible would attempt a 7,000-metre dive in 2012, Xinhua reported.

Jiaolong or simply ‘jiao’  is a polysemous aquatic dragon in Chinese mythology.  Spiritually akin to the crocodile, and perhaps originally the same reptile, was a mysterious creature capable of many forms called the chiao (kău).  It is also  described as 'a snake with four legs'.  Myth logically, it is stated that  when a number of fish in a pond reaches 3600, the Jiaolong will come as their leader and enable them to follow him and fly away. This can be stopped, however, by placing a fish trap in the water.  The female counterpart of this dragon is called the Jiao, and is hornless. Unlike the Jiaolong, which has horns.

China with its mysterious capabilities continue to make others wonder !!

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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