March 20, 2023

The Dive Into Challenger Deep

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What if you got the chance to dive to the bottom of the ocean? Would you go? And what would you find there?

That's today's big question and my returning guest, one of my all-time favorites, is Dr. Dawn Wright, better known the world over asDeep Sea Dawn.

Dawn recently became the 27th person ever in history and the first Black person ever to dive into the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of Earth's ocean.

Dawn is an elected member of both theNational Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineeringand theChief Scientist at Esri, where she works with other scientists to map the ocean floor in 3D.

As our oceans heat up and rise, as we try to reduce overfishing, and as our governments and companies race to mine minerals for our all-electric future, there has never been a more monumental and historic, and vitally important project than trying to understand our oceans.

A lot has happened, since Dawn and I last spoke.

It shouldn't be surprising then, that this conversation not only talked about the wonder of the deep seas and the Earth's crust but also went to some wonderful and unexpectedly emotional places.

I'm so thankful to have shared another conversation with Deep Sea Dawn.


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Quinn: [00:00:00]What if you got the chance to dive to the bottom of the ocean? Would you go? And what would you find there? That's today's big question and my returning guest, one of my all-time favorites is Dr. Dawn Wright, better known the world over as Deep Sea Dawn. Dawn recently became the 27th person ever in history and the first Black person ever to dive to the Challenger Deep, the deepest part of Earth's Ocean.

Dawn is an elected member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering and the Chief Scientist at Esri, where she works with other scientists to map the ocean floor in 3D. I've got a podcast. Look, as our oceans heat up and rise, and as we try to reduce over fishing, and as our governments and companies race to mine minerals for our all[00:01:00]electric future, there has never been a more monumental and historic and vitally important project like trying to understand our oceans.

Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit. In our weekly conversations, I take a deep dive with an incredible human like Dawn who's working on the front lines of the future in the deepest parts of the ocean, to build a radically better today and tomorrow for everyone.

Along the way, we're gonna discover tips, strategies, and stories you can use to get involved and to become more effective for yourself, your family, your city, our oceans, our world. A lot has happened, since Dawn and I last spoke. It shouldn't be surprising then, that this conversation not only talked about the deep seas and the wonder of the deep seas and the Earth's crust, but also went to some wonderful and unexpectedly emotional places.

It's been a[00:02:00]lot. I'm so thankful to have shared another conversation with Deepsea Dawn. As always, you can reach me for questions at, questions important not

Dawn Wright, welcome back to the show, 

Dawn Wright:Quinn. Oh, this is fantastic. Thank you so much for having me back again. 

Quinn:Oh my gosh. It, it has been a little while which is crazy and a lot has happened. And I know you've been doing exceptional work in the meantime, in a variety of ways.

So I'm excited to dig into it. And last time we still do this, which is a little wild, but last time. I think we started off the conversation, I've started every conversation since by asking folks why are you vital to the survival of the species? But I'm gonna change it up for you cuz this is your second rodeo, and say, why are you vital to the survival of our oceans Deep Sea Dawn?

Dawn Wright:I am vital as one of many. So the survival of our oceans, the survival[00:03:00]of our one interconnected ocean and the survival of our planet is dependent upon all of us. So I am vital just as a part of the family of humanity that is doing everything that we can to save our ocean.

One cog in the beautiful machine doing my part and speaking truth to power about the ocean. 

Quinn:I love it. I love it. Folks, if you're not familiar again I'll have done a whole intro and given everybody the spiel about how incredible you are and how meaningful you are to, to life here on earth in the huge variety of ways that is encompassed.

But I'm excited to dig into everything that has happened since we last spoke and what you're working on now, what everyone so many folks are working on now. As we briefly discussed offline, it has been four years since our last conversation. Good thing, Dawn. Not a lot has changed.

I, let's see, I moved my family across the country. We're back in Virginia.[00:04:00]I'm calling you from above a candy shop. Oh, it's fantastic. It appears that you have gotten the winner that I expected though, which is kinda this thing is getting a little more unpredictable.

Dawn. But if you don't mind, let's tell folks how have you spent these past four years, and then I know you've had quite the eventful past 12 months. 

Dawn Wright:Interestingly enough that the past four years have been about the same for me. I'm in the same location here in Redlands, California near Palm Springs, where we are getting quite a bit of snow.

In fact, the community that lives a couple thousand feet above us is stranded in five to eight to 10 feet of snow. Global weirding, this is global weirding in action. Yeah. But because I work for a software company, we have actually been able to be as productive throughout the pandemic as we normally would've been.

In fact for many of my colleagues, they have been more[00:05:00]productive and working from home has actually been better for them, especially those who are really writing code, hardcore code, and they need to be in an uninterrupted concentrated space. The pandemic has actually not been completely bad for them.

I know that the pandemic has affected all of us in many ways. And during that period of time, I lost my mother. So that was a the major event for me. She did not, we did not lose her to Covid, but it was just her time and it happened during that time.

So I, I bring that up though because even before the pandemic started my company gave me the option of working from home so that I could care for her as primary caregiver. When the pandemic hit, it was actually not that big of a transition for me. And in, in fact, it actually saved me in a way because[00:06:00]my travel almost completely disappeared, which is what I needed. I needed to be here, to be at home, to care for my mom. And I'm able as you can see with my home office here, surrounded by my Christmas lights and Legos, I can be just as productive, even more from the home office. So sure the pandemic has hit us in various ways, but over the last four years, it, it's been quite a ride even here from my home office because of all the things that we've been able to do that all of us can.

In fact, I hope that your podcasts, but audio ship those who, who listen into Important, Not Important, I hope that is skyrocketed as it should because I think a lot of people are turning to podcasts as ways to find light and meaning and even purpose, real lifelines. So thank you for what you're doing.

Quinn:No, of course. And again I'm so very sorry to hear about your mom. I was just gonna pivot for a moment because as we, I[00:07:00]try to cover as we say, it's science for people who give a shit, right? And that's, and that really is it's climate. It's, which is 500 different things from the oceans to soils, to solar panels, whatever it might be.

And we do public health, which we obviously do a lot more of and data, which ties into all those things as well. I've tried to educate myself over the past couple years as much as I can on the state of home care because it is obviously, I guess not obviously, if you've never had to be involved in any way, whether with a grandparent or a parent or whoever it might be, you not, might not realize, how difficult the day-to-day work can be. Whether you are again a child or a grandchild, or a caregiver themselves. But also the state of home care as it is. Just in general, the US was short, hundreds of thousands of nurses before Covid and home care, it's becoming incredibly difficult to find folks. In a more specific situation, about two, three months ago, I lost a[00:08:00]cousin who was only 38 to ALS and finding even hospice care for her. These folks were bouncing around town, running around because there's just no availability and it's a difficult job enough as it is. I wonder if you don't mind, if you could, speak a little bit about what that experience was like and if that was, if it was a surprise to you, what was required and what might be required for us to rebuild those ranks of folks who do very essential work, especially as, the boomer generation is enormous entering that territory. 

Dawn Wright:Yes. I'm so very sorry for your loss too, Quinn.

The last two to three to four years have been a time of loss for so many of us, and a time of sheer exhaustion, the way that I and I had difficulty finding good care for my mother towards the end. It's the same thing. We are stretched too thin. We don't have the capacity, or even the care, I think in terms of how our government systems work in order to[00:09:00]do the, to have the whole package for those of us who are part of this society, part of this country. And we have a Chief Medical Officer at our software company, which I think is really cool.

And she has written and spoken to this, it's Este Geraghty. The Chief Medical Officer of Esri. And she and I have had discussions about how our healthcare system, despite all of our efforts, is still broken. It's still too hard to get care at all levels. Even now the with the pandemic emergency being declared over here in California, that's I'm not okay with that, so I'm still going out in my mask and I'm mentioning this because I was super careful going over and beyond with my mother. She was vulnerable and getting her doctor's appointments. She was misdiagnosed at one point and we almost lost her because of that. And I, for me, and I think for all of us, it is[00:10:00]self-advocating. Self-advocacy, looking out for yourself doing your own homework, not depending on our healthcare system in, in many ways, doing your own homework, maybe not doing your own diagnoses. But in the case with my mother I got a second and a third opinion, and I just switched her over to a doctor who was able to give her the proper care at the end.

And I depended on friends at work to just through the grapevine, do you know of someone who could provide home nursing care. And it turns out that a friend of mine at work referred me to a, an independent nurse. He just has his own business and through word of mouth, he provides care himself or he's got his own team of nurses that he assigns for home nursing and hospice care. And that's, that saved me because through her individual recommendation, I was able to work with him who[00:11:00]he was fantastic. And he paired me up with a wonderful nurse who was with me to, to the very, to the very end from my mother.

And it turned out that I had to I still couldn't turn everything over to a hospice care type of situation. We had to jury rig it ourselves. And I did it with this nurse who, who helped me to the end. We did bring in a hospice a certified hospice nurse at the very end.

But we had done what was needed and the nurse taught me of these things and, as you were mentioning before, you have no idea what you're going to be up against. It was really something. And I was thinking about the circle of life, how my mother changed my diapers when I was a baby.

And it was a full circle. I, I got to pay the favor back and to care for her in that very intimate and very needed and special way. And it was hard, but it was, it was a joy to do it because of all that my mother had given for me. And we were best friends[00:12:00]and we just wanted to give her the best journey possible.

And the least painful journey. And that was hard work, but it was certainly I'm not using labor of love loosely here. That's really what it's like. Yeah. But we have to be our own advocates and watch out and pay attention ourselves because I don't think our government system, regardless of who is in control I just think the United States is too complex.

We just don't have what we need. We don't have it. 

Quinn:Yeah. It's I always hesitate to, I try not to oversimplify when I'm digging into these, obviously enormously complex things and I'm nothing, if not a generalist in, in so many of these things, whether it's mapping the ocean floors or community health clinics or whatever it might be.

But there are certain things you can boil down and say, we, we don't have what we need. We, we need so many more electricians. We[00:13:00]need so many more nurses. We need to understand that someone like yourself, who is a full-time, very important job as much it was helpful to be able to be remote.

You're still expected to do your job in some part while you're doing full-time care of a loved one which is enormous work. And often folks have to leave their jobs to do that kind of care. So they're not compensated. And what does that do? And getting into the logistics, not just of the wellness that part of the wellness journey and the health journey, but the legal side and the financial side and all of these things that none of us are really trained to do in any capacity.

And again, and then you come back to emails and spreadsheets and stuff like that. It is interesting. And like you said, the circle of life. On the other hand, we also had the child tax benefit and it was great. And then we just let it go. And you go what?

On either end. We just seem so willing to drop the ball on purpose. And it I don't understand. Why? I guess I do in a lot of respects, but it's frustrating.[00:14:00] 

Dawn Wright:Or even when we don't want to drop the ball we, we do, I, and I could switch to a different subject in terms of the environment, electric vehicles.

So now that things are back, and I'm freer to travel now because my mother has crossed over and is in, I believe in heaven. So I, she's there. But anyway, I'm traveling a lot more now and I'm doing a lot of interstate travel and I have my electric vehicle. I think I'm doing my part, but the last month has been has been pretty rough because the electric vehicle stations, half of them are broken.

Half of them you get there and they are being refurbished so no stations are available and you've got maybe 10% charge left on your car and it turns into a do or die adventure to, to get from point A to point B in this new economy where we're trying to electrify everything.

And I'm in[00:15:00]California where we are supposed to have the best of the best, and it's still a struggle. And at every station that I've been stopping at, I've been having conversations with other electric vehicle drivers and we're all saying the same thing. How our infrastructure we're trying to do the right thing and we have the Inflation Reduction Act and all of this going on, but it's still not trickling down to those of us who are in the trenches.

So that's another example. 

Quinn:There's so much to dig in there for sure. There's two amazing women who I'm trying to have on the show and I truly cannot find their contact information. Evette Ellis and Kameale Terry, I think are their names. They run a, they started a company called Charger Help.

Two amazing black women. And their whole thing is we need to train thousands of people to maintain these things cuz they can't just be broken. Like the, it's one thing to be like, we're gonna build all these cars, that's great, but if we don't have enough chargers, forget if we have enough chargers.

If half the ones we have don't work, great. But also, if there's gonna be all these people, we need[00:16:00]electricians, we need to train them and they need to have jobs, great. Let's build this workforce. So I'm all for the whole supply chain, cuz you're right, if it's not in working in California, then, it's not really working in other places.

That's amazing. Listen, thank you for sharing all that. I hope that wasn't too private. 

Dawn Wright:Oh, not at all. I'm very happy to share that. Yeah. 

Quinn:As, as much as we all, whether it's me podcasting from above a candy shop or doing these incredible things you've done, life goes on, right?

Pandemics happen, and we have loss, and there's births and all these things and would be great if we had more institutional infrastructure support to, to be able to do all of those things to navigate all of that. Much less to do that. So let's talk about going to the bottom of the ocean.

How did this come about? What was the moment where you were, tell me about the moment where you were offered the opportunity to become 26th, 27th person to go to the Challenger Deep.

Dawn Wright:Oh gosh. I think I'm the 27th and the story starts with Kathy Sullivan.[00:17:00]Okay. Kathy Sullivan. Who, if you don't, if you haven't had her on your podcast.

Oh my goodness. She is among so many things. She's the first American woman to walk in space and she was the administrator of the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration and just an all around amazing person. And she has been, she and her agency have great friends of our company, Esri. NOAA and many other agencies use our software for all manner of their mapping needs.

So they are a customer, they're a collaborator. We do research together. Kathy Sullivan has come to, to speak at our conferences. She's a personal friend. And Victor Vescovo, who is the amazing explorer who has taken so many people down to Challenger Deep. He wanted to take Kathy Sullivan down to Challenger Deep in 2020.

At the time he also needed mapping support aboard his ship, the pressure drop,[00:18:00]because one of the things that those expeditions do is that not only are they sending people down to the deepest parts of the ocean in Victor's amazing submersible, which is called the limiting factor, but the ship itself is equipped with one of the most modern sea floor mapping systems in existence.

And so the ship does a lot of mapping of the ocean floor. Either in the areas that they are diving in or in transit. And because we don't have, we're still trying to get a hundred percent of the sea floor mapped in that kind of detail., by 2030, the pressure drop, they call it the Good Ship Pressure Drop.

Thinking back to the Shirley Temple song, for those of us who are old enough or who like classic film, the good ship pressure drop has collected millions of square kilometers of new data. And they have been depending on staffing to do[00:19:00]that. They had a transition in staffing. And to make a long story short they asked Esri to send people out to, to help them map on that expedition that was supporting Kathy Sullivan's dive.

I was first asked to go out on the pressure drop in 2020, but as we know, that was right around the time when things were really starting to shut down due to the pandemic. And Esri, we were not able to send anybody out to support Kathy's dive with Victor, but we agreed to do a series of story maps of the whole expedition.

Story maps, those are free applications that, that we give to the world, that help you to tell any type of story with maps and pictures and videos and narrative. Thousands, millions of story maps have been made but our, the team that invented that app they also make customized story maps for really special expeditions or projects such as this.[00:20:00] 

So that started our relationship with Victor Vescovo in terms of supporting her dive by helping them to tell that story. And I can give you the links to, to the story. Anyway, Victor and I got to know each other a little better after Kathy's dive. And her dive, by the way, made her the most vertical person in the universe because she had been up in space.

She'd been the first American woman to walk in space. And in on that dive, she became the first woman to dive to Challenger Deep. So it was truly a remarkable feat. And we could do and Victor's another one you should have on your podcast because the whole story of the five deeps expeditions that he had already completed where he alone took his submersible to the five deepest places in the world ocean.

Challenger Deep in the Pacific, the deepest place in the Atlantic is Puerto Rico Trench, the Malloy[00:21:00]Hole in the Arctic. The deepest spot in the Indian Ocean, in the Southern Ocean. At any rate, he had already completed that. Not very many people know about that or know about all of the data that they have collected.

All of the species the biodiversity they have discovered. That's adding to this whole conserving and understanding the ocean effort. After he completed that, he wanted to share, expand his accomplishments by taking people with him. So he then began to invite people like Kathy Sullivan to go with him to Challenger Deep to make her the first woman. He's taken Y.T. Lynn, who's the first Asian American to Challenger Deep. He took Nicole Yamase in 2021. She became the first Pacific Islander. And as Victor and I got to know each other, and he found out about my background with diving to the ocean floor and mapping the ocean floor and also because of what I do at Esri, he asked me to make the dive to[00:22:00]Challenger Deep. And we were supposed to do that in 2021. And at that time I was still trying to shepherd my mother to, to the finish line, so to speak. And I was not sure if I was gonna be able to do it. And this was also one of the reasons why I got nursing care for my mother because I thought if we do this I'm gonna have to put my mother in the care of a full-time nurse and let's start practicing with that and let's see if we can make that work.

And unfortunately through the practice phase, she passed and it turned out with the scheduling of the ship and the other dives and the other things that they were trying to accomplish. The dive was going to be scheduled in 2022 in the summer, the spring, or summer of 2022. I was able to say unequivocally, yes I will do this, I can do this with you.

And I, I really can't describe what I felt when I first got the email from Victor asking me in the first place. I was[00:23:00]I was stunned. I was excited. It took my breath away. At the same time, I wasn't sure that I could do it. Similarly to when he asked me to come out and help them map. But everything worked out and we dove last summer in July, and it was it was mind blowing it for me.

It was and for, I think most oceanographers going to Challenger Deep is the moon shot because that is the deepest place that you can go. And if you are especially for someone like me who is a geologist, that's one of the major plate tectonic boundaries on the planet. And it's also, it also gives you the full picture of how the ocean works.

If that's, if it's possible to do that in one 10 and a half hour dive, that's what happened to me because sure, it's the deepest place on the planet, but the ocean works like an integrated,[00:24:00]interconnected machine. And even as we think about climate change and the crazy weather that is all dependent on the ocean and particularly on the heat that is circulated through the ocean, the ocean absorbs 90% of the heat, especially of the heat that we generate from greenhouse gas emissions.

The ocean is absorbing all of that, circulating it. It governs our weather and our climate patterns. But Challenger Deep is part of that too, because the deepest places in the ocean are part of circulating that heat. It was just a thrill to be able to go to the mountaintop, so to speak, because if you, when you're mapping the ocean, you can flip everything upside down.

And the deepest places are… you can fit Mount Everest into Challenger Deep, and you still have a couple of miles to go to get to, to the bottom . 

Quinn:That's incredible. I have 7,000 questions, most of which I've learned about the ocean has been from being in it or from you and folks like you or my[00:25:00]children when they were younger.

They've gotten so big now, it's crazy. They loved the show. Maybe you're familiar with it, a cartoon called Octonauts. 

Dawn Wright:Oh, yes. Yeah. The Octonauts are awesome.

Quinn:Truly. Yeah, I could not, I tried to get them to watch it still, and they're older. But I'm like, come on guys uh, let's do some Octonauts.

It's the amount I've learned from that show is fantastic. Yeah, it's when you consider just the depth of it before we get into sort of the mechanics of how the deep works, it's truly astonishing. It's really incredible. So just for folks to, let's hit the bullet points. How deep is Challenger Deep?

How far down are we going? 

Dawn Wright:Challenger Deep is within the Mariana Trench, so that, that gives you some context right there. Challenger Deep itself is made up of three pools, three depressions that are within this region known as Challenger Deep. Okay. And the Eastern pool is where, that's where the record, that's where Victor set the record.

I think it's 10,989 meters. I'll have to double check that.[00:26:00]Victor took me to the western pool, which is not quite as deep, but it's still deep. We went to 10,919 meters. So, that whole region is nearly seven miles. So that's what I normally tell audiences that if you run a 10 K race, you still would not get to the bottom of Challenger Deep if you were running vertically from the surface of the ocean down to where Challenger Deep is.

Quinn:That's incredible. That's incredible. I realized, I forgot I had it sitting over here. I asked my children before I left this morning if they had any questions for you, because again, they're big Octonauts and so my seven-year-old, I don't know if we can read this. My seven-year-old wrote this question and I believe it says, And he pronounces it, the marinara trench.

Oh yeah. He said, what does the bottom of the marinara trench look like? I feel like that's a good time to ask that question. So when you get down seven miles, what are we talking about?

Dawn Wright:It's very[00:27:00]desolate. For one thing, my experience and it, it goes back to plate tectonics. So if you'll allow me to just go back out to the 35,000 foot picture we have three major big boundaries, three types of cracks that dominate our planet.

So I live in Southern California in Redlands. We're only a few miles away from the San Andreas fault. Yeah. So that's one major type of crack where tectonic plates are sliding past each other. In fact, the horrific earthquake that took place recently in Turkey and Syria.

It, that, it was that type of major plate boundary or major crack, and the plates are sliding past each other. Then there's a type of crack where the inside of the earth is coming out of that crack and the tectonic plates are moving apart. And that's where you see the tube worms[00:28:00]and the giant clams and the underwater hot springs, the hydrothermal vents.

Those are the places that I'm most familiar with and that I've studied in submersibles before. Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench is the third major type of plate boundary where the inside of the earth is not coming out. The earth, one part at one plate, tectonic plate is actually going underneath another.

The plates are colliding. So they're not sliding past each other. They're not moving apart, they're colliding. They’re crashing into each other. So if you think about the Himalaya Mountains, that's that type of boundary. 

Quinn:So here's one side note, one recent thing I learned, which is very exciting, coming back to Virginia.

The Appalachian Mountains here, it turns out, are not very high, but turns out among the oldest on the planet, because the, I don't know the mechanics of it, but I guess used to be part of Scotland and the West Coast of Africa, I couldn't believe I don't remember what[00:29:00]the number is at all, but same thing, right?

Dawn Wright:Yeah. So this whole planet is dynamic, right? And things are sliding around and moving apart and crashing into each other. And so because of the Mariana Trench being this type of collision zone, what we saw were vast fields of broken up rocks. Where the collision between the Pacific plate and the Philippine plate had occurred.

So we didn't see hot springs and abundant life, but we did see these collision zones. And it's also very desolate down there as well. If you don't see rock piles, you just see a desolate plane. We were in a sort of a basin within the Challenger Deep. We did see things that live because the pressure at Challenger Deep, 16,000 pounds per square inch. There are all kinds of ways to express that. When I've spoken to kids recently I've said it's[00:30:00]like a stack of 26 jumbo jets sitting on your big toe. It's just it's just enormous.

And of course there is the Styrofoam cup test that, your listeners won't be able to see this, but this is the Styrofoam cup. That's normal. And then this is how it's shrunk at Challenger Deep, to a fraction of the size. But there are creatures that can withstand that pressure.

They can withstand the cold because it's near freezing at the bottom of all of the world ocean. And it's completely dark, but we saw anemones, we saw sea cucumbers. We didn't see any fish because fish are not known to exist deeper than 8,000 meters or so. Okay. And we were at 10,900 and 19 or 10,900 throughout most of the dive.


Quinn:Now if real quick I, if again I don't know anything about anything here. And I know you're, adjacent to[00:31:00]marine biology but how does a body, how is a body mechanically built to be able to withstand that kind of pressure, even if it's desolate at the bottom, and we barely have rocks, like you said, eight thousand meters.

I don't understand how something could be built, even if it doesn't have any sort of mechanics at all. Like how?

Dawn Wright:So this is the miracle that marine biologists are currently studying. How is it possible for any of these creatures to exist? In these places?

They regulate the gas, the gases that are in their bodies. They have adaptations in their tissues, their bones or their cartilage. The snail fish that we did record via camera because we were not sent down to Challenger Deep by ourselves in the submersible.

We actually had a robot that went with us and was in Challenger Deep. Was in the deepest part of the Western pool with us to help us with navigating. We were able to ping off of that[00:32:00]robot and understand our pretty exact position. But there was another robot that we dropped higher up into Challenger Deep, and it landed at around 7,400 meters and it was therefore able to get amazing footage of the snail fish.

The deepest species of fish that's known. Snail fish actually exists at all depths. You can even find species of snail fish in, in estuaries, but this particular species of snail fish is the Deep Sea or the HADL. HADL is an acronym that really comes from Hades from hell. These animals, they're living in what we would consider hell.

So there, there are marine biologists like Mackenzie Gerringer and Alan Jameson and many others who are, that is what they do. They study these fish, they're discovering new species of creatures in these depths. And they're trying to understand how it is that they do[00:33:00]what they do. In terms of the species that are known around the hydrothermal vents, where they are living in complete darkness.

Yes. But they are living with chemicals coming out of the sea floor that are like a toxic sewer because of the zinc and the fluids coming out of those vents are toxic. And then they're also, those fluids are coming out at 400 degrees Celsius. So how are they able to withstand that?

There are adaptations from these creatures that we can certainly use in bio pharmaceuticals. Maybe there is a cure for Long Covid or a cure for cancer that we can learn about from studying these creatures. That's of course, that's beyond, that's above my pay grade because as a geologist, I look more at the rocks and the sediments and of course mapping that terrain.

But this is why it's important to, to study and to know as much as we can about[00:34:00]our own planet. And there's so much, we have a long way to go. It's wonderful that we are thinking about going back to Mars and I think the Artemis mission is absolutely fantastic to go back to the moon, but we are indeed still only 24.7% along the way of mapping, just mapping the ocean floor to get to a hundred percent.

We are only 24.7% of the way there and we're trying to get to a hundred percent by 2030. 

Quinn:So I wanna understand better. Thank you for all that. 24.7%, where were you last time we talked in 2018? How, I'm trying to understand sort of the rate of increase. 

Dawn Wright:There's been a lot of activity. Maybe we were around 16 or 17% when I talked to you back then, because of the awareness that the Seabed 2030 initiative has been raising.

And Seabed 2030 is, it's a multi nation initiative, but it's actually[00:35:00]run by the Nipon Foundation of Japan and also the general Bathometric chart of the oceans. And it is now a, an officially endorsed program of the United Nations. So that really helps to get the word out. So since the word has gotten out, there has been more research activity.

There are corporations that are mapping the seabed or the sea floor and opening up their data that they've had stored. They've already done the mapping, but they just haven't released the data. So that's one of the big things that we're trying to do, is to get companies to release their data.

And of course, every time we go out on oceanographic research expeditions, we're going to new, we're covering new ground and we're slowly but surely adding to, to that percentage. 

Quinn:So it seems like there's a lot of momentum finally, and I wanted to get into a little bit the new High Seas Ocean Treaty that again, as of this recording, not ratified by anybody, but we've got language, which is a hell of an[00:36:00]achievement, because from what I understand, this is 15, 20 years in the making something like this. 

Dawn Wright:Yes. I have colleagues who colleagues at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who have been at this since the beginning.

Like my colleague Lisa Levin, a very famous marine biologist at Scripps. And then some of her colleagues have been involved in this for the last 10 years. And they've been running the Deep Ocean strategic initiative has members who were in New York participating in negotiating that language.

Yeah. So it is, this is a big deal. Yeah. 

Quinn:So could you give us the, cuz what I'm getting to is, we've become so much more aware of all the heat the ocean has absorbed. We've become so much aware, much more aware of how and where and why in places we have completely overfished parts of it. We are mapping more of it than ever, we're at almost 25%.

Just an incredible achievement to be able to do that in any capacity. We're aware of so much more. You've got these incredible marine biologists like Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who are writing ocean policy and she's[00:37:00]got books and all that kind of stuff. And I've always loved her quote of how do we use the ocean without using it up?

And that is becoming more pertinent because of things like, Hey, if we're gonna transition to these EVs that it turns out we can't really charge anywhere. We need all these metals and we need all these different things if we're gonna rewrite our geopolitics. So could you give us the foundation of the bullet list of what this treaty will look so that people understand what the high seas are technically, it's a real thing, it's not just a pirate term. And then I guess, how that might fit into this whole picture of using the ocean without using it up, with potential mining, with biodiversity, with understanding tectonic plates and all of those things.

I know that's a big ask, but again, trying to just frame it for people so understand, where we're trying to do things. 

Dawn Wright:Yeah. And a very simple frame that the high seas are the areas that are beyond our national jurisdiction. Every country has an exclusive economic zone that[00:38:00]extends out 200 miles from our shorelines, that belongs to us, that belongs to our country.

But if you go beyond 200 miles, there is this area known as the high seas, and we say that the ocean covers 70 or 71% of our planet's surface, the high seas cover 40%. So this is a huge area beyond -

Quinn:- not a just the ocean, of our planets surface. That's incredible. 

Dawn Wright:So of the 70%, 40% is high seas. 40% does not belong to anyone, so to speak. But in a way it does belong to us. And it must, it needs to be cared for. It does need to be regulated because the ocean is so dynamic. If you think about fishing, for instance, we're able to fish within our exclusive economic zone within our 200 meters because the fish have come there, they've come there[00:39:00]from the high seas.

If we allow activities out in the high seas as though it's a wild west out there. These are not Norwegian waters, or they're not Canadian or American or Mexican waters. They're just the high seas. So let's just pollute. Let's fish the living daylights out of it. Let's mine, let's do all these kinds of things without any consequence.

These are the high seas. We don't have to worry about it. That is not true. And oceanographic science has known this for, for decades, and the idea of this High Seas treaty is to agree to protect and regulate the activities of the high sea so that all of us can benefit.

Because if those oceans are super polluted or overfished, the oceans don't just sit there[00:40:00]statically. The oceans are dynamic. We have the currents that are at the surface and that are underneath that bring all kinds of features to our waters. Everything is connected.

Everything is in motion, everything is circulating. So you can't just damage the high seas and that is not going to affect you in your territorial waters. The amazing thing that happened in New York was that they finally, among all of the nations there, finally agreed on language.

What can we do to make sure that the high seas are protected? We can set aside many of these areas to be marine parks. And the idea of marine parks or marine protected areas is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that we keep the oceans healthy for all of us so that there are enough fish in the ocean so that there the quality of the water is such that coral[00:41:00]reefs will survive.

Another thing that was discussed there in that language is the idea of seabed mining. We cannot, at this point, we cannot allow the seabed. In these areas beyond our national jurisdiction to just be openly mined. We do not know what the consequences are yet. Ecosystems not just fish that swim at the surface or fish that swim in the waters beneath the surface, but the fish that live on the bottom and all of the other creatures that live on the bottom, their habitats.

They are the equivalent of the Amazon rainforest down there. We can't just plow through and mine in the Amazon jungle and think that there are no consequences there. Similar thing in the ocean. And the other thing about seabed mining is that, there is an idea that perhaps the minerals, of course manganese, the manganese[00:42:00]nodules are famous.

But in terms of our lithium batteries, you're not gonna solve the lithium shortage by mining the sea floor. In fact there's a place near where I live called the Saltan Sea, where the Salton Sea is actually one potential answer to lithium. And there hopefully there's a way that we can environmentally get what we need without seabed mining.

But one part of the language that's coming out of the negotiations is treading very carefully in the seabed mining space. So those are three major areas that, that I'm touching on very generally. The whole idea of creating more marine parks for protection. And this has implications for fisheries, making sure that the high seas are not overfished.

And then the seabed mining issue. And when you think about this,[00:43:00]also you're thinking about the ocean, not just at the surface, but this is an, what we need to be understanding about the high seas is that this involves the near surface mid level waters, but also the deep waters all the way down to the sea bed.

So we need to think about the ocean as a three-dimensional space and treat it as such. 

Quinn:I feel like I learned a lot from Octonauts in that sense with the midnight zone and everything. Really understand for the first time the layers and how they all connect and work together. I would love to see an episode about about the treaty.

So thank you for digging onto all that. It's, it seems so timely, but I imagine, the pressure has mounted, the more we know and the more that you get this outside pressure from society and economies to again, replace every car on the road, but also from corporate interests who are trying to do that and nationalities who are going, okay, if oil's not the thing which all of our geopolitics have been based on for a hundred years, then[00:44:00]what are the other minerals that are. I wanted to ask and I'm curious about this cuz I'm woefully uninformed on this, which is I need to do a better job, but domestically on land and some territorial waters, there has been a very understandable pushback from Indigenous groups saying, Hey, listen, we understand the mining that theoretically needs to be done to support these things, but one that's our lands and waters, which, we have certain rights over, obviously and should have more of.

We're seeing this with the Colorado River, for example. Does that come into play at all with the High Seas conversations at all? I, again I'm just so uninformed on this, but I would love to understand that a little bit better and what input that huge variety of folks might have considering, they've been sailing those waters a hell of a lot longer than we have.

Dawn Wright:It plays a huge role. In fact, the High Seas Treaty people who are involved in the High Seas Treaty are also involved in, I would say two other major conferences[00:45:00]that have immediately proceeded what happened in New York with the High Seas Treaty. One is the conference that I was just at the Our Ocean Conference in Panama.

And then prior to that it was the International Marine Protected Areas Congress that took, yes, IMPAC that took place in Vancouver, Canada. At both of those meetings, there was a huge emphasis, and I would say at the International Marine Protected Areas Congress, there was a much bigger emphasis on the knowledge of Indigenous scientists, traditional ecological knowledge, traditional Indigenous knowledge, that is science.

We have our Western perspective, but when we're talking about, especially protecting and understanding areas that we have not really known that much about, the ocean has been a[00:46:00]mystery to us. The Indigenous peoples the Micronesians, the Polynesians, Indigenous peoples of Central and South America, North America, they have known more not only about the ocean, but about protecting and sustaining the ocean.

And so that, that science now has come to the fold. And it means everything. It means everything in terms of trying to achieve what we need to achieve with regard to protected areas. 

Quinn:It seems like, I was just gonna say, it's, so many of these folks have been saying for thousands years but even more vocally in, in the past 100.

Look, these are our oral histories of our travel and where we have been and where we have lived, and no one really believes them because they don't call it science. And then, someone does some archeological finding and says, wow, looks like someone sailed from one place to another, which seems impassable 12,000 years ago.

And you go hold on there. There's much more to this and maybe we should do a better job listening. I had[00:47:00]Jessica Hernandez on the show who is incredible and her book is wonderful and just again, trying to really understand that and the history there and the perspective there.

Dawn Wright:Yes. Plus, we've had some, we have so many Indigenous scientists who have gone through the normal Western system, and they have PhDs. They are doing peer reviewed, substantive, rigorous research that incorporates this knowledge, their own knowledge according to Western scientific practices too.

So it's, I think it's a wonderful time for this awakening. And we need it now just in time. So at the International Marine Protected Area Congress that was talked about a lot. It was not talked about as much at the, Our Ocean Panama Conference that I was at. But still the, Our Ocean Conference was about countries coming together to, to make specific action commitments. What are we going to do to protect these areas? How much are we going to[00:48:00]protect? And the government of Panama made an amazing announcement at the beginning of our meeting, which was our meeting started on March the second, Panama has agreed to protect not just 30% of their territorial waters, but 50% because there is this movement, 30 by 30 that you may have heard about, protect 30% of land and ocean. By the year 2030, we're gonna have a fighting chance of helping this planet to survive. And I know for still have a long way to go there in terms of understanding what 30% means and that we can't use as part of our 30% Indigenous lands unless they agree to that unless they're have a seat at the table.

And are part of the negotiation to establish, what is going to be the 30%. But in Panama, they have upped it to 54%. That's amazing. In terms of their ocean, they are protecting 54% of their ocean with the Indigenous[00:49:00]tribes as part of that, a big part of that discussion.

So for us to have our conference and there were 600 delegates, 600 of us from pretty much all of the ocean nations of the world, and many of us from NGOs, conservation organizations, and a few of us from industry. I was sent as an industry delegate from Esri as we care so much about mapping the ocean and are participating in that.

It was fantastic to finish our conference and then hear that the High Seas Treaty folks had had made it into port, so to speak, at least, with the language being agreed to. 

Quinn:Sure, sure. So the next obviously so much has happened, so much is happening. There's so much, we're on the precipice of so many things from our tools to our knowledge, to our understanding which can be two different things to some serious make or break circumstances around ocean[00:50:00]heating and acidification and all things like that sea level rise, which seems like we can't really put back in the box among everything else.

Tell me really what I guess for you, the next five, 10 years looks like your overarching mission. So if you said, it's the idea of how we spend our time is how we spend our days or how we spend our days is how we spend our time. Whichever way you do it. If you had to start at 30,000 feet, by 2030, by 2035 and dial it down to how you're spending your days and your weeks and your months, what does that look like for you most strategically with your work?

Besides obviously increasing the percentage of the ocean that's mapped, and how can the rest of us really play a part there knowing everything we know and the work we have to do? 

Dawn Wright:Yeah, I think one of the things that is really not talked about enough, is the idea of connecting each other in terms of our data and our knowledge.

I think a tagline that's emerging[00:51:00]at Esri is linking science to action by taking geographic approach with geographic information systems or geographic tools. And so that, that's really the folks, everybody is creating data. Everybody is mapping, everybody is taking measurements.

We are now coming to this realization that we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and that we need to set aside areas of land and ocean to protect. Those are larger overarching ideas, but still a central problem that we're facing is that we don't understand each other and we are not collaborating, we're not working together with each other, and we're gonna see this.

The High Seas Treaty is an example of that because it took a good 10 years for the nations to even agree on language as to what to do with the high seas. We've known that the problem has existed,[00:52:00]but what do we do specifically? And it's taken 10 years for people to understand each other and to work together so that they have they now have these words.

They have the treaty, then it's gonna be another who knows how long to ratify. As you mentioned before, that the treaty has got to be ratified through legislative action in each of the countries. Oh my gosh. We still don't have Ukraine in NATO or in the European Union. Same kind of thing. So what we do with our technology is we provide the geographic approach is a powerful means for helping people to understand each other through maps helping people to explore different solutions, again, through maps and spatial analysis and helping people, again, through maps to find, to reach agreement. And so we do that with the technology that we create that helps people to collect data, to[00:53:00]visualize and map the to understand what the data are telling them through analysis and modeling.

Then they can use that to plan out where additional marine protected areas should be. What the boundaries should be. How can we understand the biodiversity and the protection of carbon and the food that's going to be produced within that marine protected area. That's part of the work that we're doing with National Geographics Pristine Seas program.

Then to make decisions how should we enforce regulations or activities in that marine protected area? Then we'll have to circle back around and collect more data because you don't just collect data once, especially in the ocean. The ocean is so dynamic that things are changing from second to second, let alone day to day and week to week and month to month and year to year.

So whenever we can collect data we have to understand that piece of the planet again. I call this a virtuous circle using that geographic approach[00:54:00]that Esri has for the ocean and for the land. We're involved in all kinds of 30 by 30 initiatives. Everybody is doing their part within their programs to try to help. 

Quinn:It seems like governments and certainly corporations are probably increasingly looking towards your work as a platform and as a tool for achieving some of these enormous milestones?

Dawn Wright:There's something magic about a map. A map is a language people can stare at maps for hours on end, and discover all kinds of things. When maps become dynamic and interactive. You take that and you can as we say, force multiply all the different things that you want to achieve.

So we, we are not the only company that works with maps or create maps. There are many other fantastic companies and initiatives out there, and we[00:55:00]all need to do our part. At Esri, we've just had the great pleasure of working with so many governments for so long, and with so many organizations like Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy, and we're doing a lot with the National Geographic right now, we're very excited about that because we are connected with the National Geographic in ways that we've never been connected with them before.

And National Geographic is connected with Disney in ways that has never been connected before. And that's a powerful combination in terms of reaching out to people and educating them about what needs to be done and what we can all, how we can all participate. 

Quinn:I love that there is so much to do but it is incredibly viable work.

However, folks find a way to participate. It's difficult to visit any body of water, much less the ocean, even if you're just standing on the shore and running away from the waves. Like I could still do. Yeah. Much less going out on a, we're very lucky, we're about an hour from Virginia[00:56:00]Beach and which is great, and went out and did a little whale watching couple weeks ago.

First time in my life I'd seen whales up close and it was just incredible. And again, I don't understand how you interact with these things in any way and not just be an all on one and immediately think oh, what can we do to conserve this at all costs? It's pretty incredible.

Dawn, I don't want to keep you forever here. You're incredible. You've now earned your title, Deep Sea Dawn a hundred times over. You've made deepest see dawn as it goes. So I'm just gonna ask you last couple questions we ask everyone, and then we're gonna get you outta here. But thank you so much for your time and everything you're doing and it's always special.

Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months? 

Dawn Wright:Ooh, in the past six months, in the past six months, I would have to say that it's Victor Vescovo because he gave me the opportunity to make this historic dive, what he is doing in terms of opening people's eyes[00:57:00]to, to the wonders and the utility of the ocean that has opened the door for me to talk even more about the ocean because everybody's interested in this dive.

And in terms of being the first Black person to do this, I'm hoping for the day when we don't have to make these kinds of landmarks or I've actually gotten a lot of social media hate about, why, what, who cares? Why is it important that you're the first Black person to do anything?

Hopefully we'll get beyond that. But until we do the opportunity that Victor has given to me, and I would say Esri, because this has been a collaboration between Caladan Oceanic, Victor's prior company and Esri, it's opened up a whole new more avenues for me to reach out to young people who have never, I got a wonderful email from a little boy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is part of a Justice Code Junior Scienc Club, part of the National[00:58:00]Black National Society for Black Engineers. And he said, please, in his email, please come to Albuquerque and speak to us. I wasn't able to do that, but I was able to reach out to his club and to meet him and his club mates and teachers, all Black, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

And I'm, these are the types of opportunities that, that I'm getting. And it's thanks to what Victor has provided for me with this adventure to Challenger Deep.

Quinn:That's special. And I love the utility of saying, yes, I did this, but how can I use it as this Trojan horse to expand my microphone.

Dawn Wright:Trojan horses? That's fantastic. Yeah. Let's be subversive.

Quinn:Did your mom and did you guys talk about potentially doing this dive at all before she crossed on and I'm so curious. That just must have been, again, I've got these little children who were, incredibly privileged and they're wonderful and curious on one hand and morons on the other, and it's the best[00:59:00]thing ever, every day.

And they write these signs about the, the marinara trench. But it must have been incredible for her to know that there's this possibility that her daughter was going to, because not just because of Victor, but because of all of your work for decades, you're gonna, be able to do this thing.

Like what? I'm curious what those conversations were like? 

Dawn Wright:Oh, yes, my mother, bless her heart, she has on one hand she's been scared to death, but on the other hand, she's been overjoyed about the opportunities that I have gotten through oceanography. Because in the 1980s I went to Antarctica on an oceanographic research expedition.

I was a marine technician at the time, so I was working on board this ship for six months out of the year, two months on, two months off. And so she has been on these wild rides with me ever since then. And the first time going to Antarctica and seeing icebergs and penguins and being stuck in the middle of[01:00:00]the wet lc purposely because this was a drill ship.

So we purposefully anchored ourselves in the seabed so that we could extract cores of sediment and rocks and study them. Then we had to have another ship accompany us to lasso and pull icebergs out of the way so we wouldn't be run over by icebergs. And then I've had dives in Alvin the famous Alvins at Mercy Bowl of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which was just refitted recently to reach 6,500 meters.

So they'll still be able to reach 90% of ocean depths there. So she has been with me all along, and she knew about the invitation from Victor, and she was going to hold her breath and hope for the best. And that's why we decided to see if we could get full-time nursing for her so that I could leave for a couple of weeks in order to do this.

And it just turned out that she passed before,[01:01:00]before we even got to, to that point. But we were in the that scenario where I was having a nurse come over to help me. And then that nurse was going to be the person to stay with her 24 hours a day once I left for Challenger Deep.

But we didn't have to, we didn't have to worry about that in a sense. Yeah, but she was with me. 

Quinn:She must have been still be so proud of you. Again, you've done such enormous work for the world and that is quite the achievement. Again, like I, I'm the most sentimental dad, I'm gonna keep this forever, ridiculous. She must have thought all of your shenanigans must have been in just something else.

Dawn Wright:I have some wonderful, I have a couple of binders full of letters and drawings from children, which is the most precious especially the drawings and their own depictions of me and the ship and the submersible and Victor and our trip to Challenger Deep. And those are[01:02:00]absolutely precious. And then I also have a medallion from Don Walsh. Don Walsh is, he and Jacques Picard were the first human beings to descend to Challenger Deep in 1960. 

Quinn:And I was reading about that and I could not believe how long ago that they did that.

I thought it was the eighties for some reason. Yeah. That's incredible. 

Dawn Wright:No, it was 1960 and Don Walsh is still with us. I was on a panel with him just a couple of weeks ago in San Diego, where he gave me his medallion the challenge coin commemorating his discent. He was a in the the US Navy at the time.

So that is, is precious. Absolutely precious. And he has been a mentor and a voice for the deep ocean. He has helped Victor, he's helped James Cameron with his discent. And he is, he's just done amazing work for the ocean science and the ocean engineering community. He's an engineer, really.[01:03:00] 

Quinn:That's, that perspective is so important and so wonderful and, very semi-related. My grandfather was on a submarine in World War II and these things were this big. And now one of my best friends in the world is a submarine captain here in Norfolk. And I went with him. And, talk about enormous responsibility.

Good Lord. Especially someone you've known birth and you could tell some stories about. But we, he and I went there's a few World War II submarines docked around the US. I think there's three or four of them total. And we went to one in Connecticut to understand the difference between his life.

And of course he had learned more of about it. And I'd always heard stories, but to go and go on one of these little things, these tin cans with, the steel is this thick, and you think that's what they did. And they obviously didn't go that deep, but just to do it at all. And now what he does again, I think about that perspective and seeing it on his face versus how much we still don't know about the oceans despite all of your work since those dives in the sixties. And how are[01:04:00]you able to go now? It's just such an incredible transfer of knowledge and perspective. 

Dawn Wright:And it took decades between Don Walsh and Jacques Picard's dive, and when James Cameron went, decades passed.

And then Victor's huge achievement was designing with Triton submarines the limiting factor, which can repeatedly go to any point in the ocean. And a limiting factor now is part of it's owned and operated by ink, fish expeditions. And so they have the submersible, they have the ship and they will continue the work, but the limiting factor is known as the space shuttle.

Of the ocean because it can repeat it and James Cameron's Deep Sea Challenger. Those were one-time trips, but the limiting factor has is made. 

Quinn:. What a fete of engineering just doesn't. Unreal. The way the wear and tear. Oh my God. I can't even imagine.

Thank you. Last question, Dawn. What is a book you have read this[01:05:00]year that has opened your mind to maybe a topic you hadn't considered before or actually changed your thinking or your work in some way? We got a whole list now on bookshop and people love it, and they hunt these things down and take your time.

I can't remember books I finished last night, so. 

Dawn Wright:I would have to say Surrender by Bono. 

Quinn:Oh, I haven't checked that out yet. 

Dawn Wright:Check out. That book has really in a way it's, it is his story, but being a U2 fan and having and he and I are the same age having lived through these periods of history with him and with the band, and with U2 and hearing his perspective now it has just really strengthened me.

Surrender has really been an amazing read for me. So that's, I, and I'm still thinking about it. 

Quinn:Awesome. We'll throw it on the list for sure. Last thing, Dawn, where can our listeners and viewers and whatever find you on the internet these days? 

Dawn Wright:Oh, I am Deep Sea Dawn on just about any social media platform, Twitter,[01:06:00]Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and yeah, so just, it's just Deep Sea Dawn.

Quinn:Awesome. Listen I cannot thank you enough for your time for coming back and putting up with me once again. You're a hero for a million reasons. 

Dawn Wright:Fantastic experience. So much fun to talk to you.

Quinn:I love that you're getting to talk to kids more and more.

And it's just yeah. It's very special, unique work that you do and we're thankful to have you. 

Dawn Wright:I'm thankful for the work that you do as well. As we pay attention to what we're doing and what we're seeing and what we're learning. We realize. That everything is important.

Everything has its role. 

Quinn:Yeah, it does. It does.

That's it. Important, Not Important is hosted by me, Quinn Emmett. It is produced by Willow Beck. It is edited by Anthony Luciani, and the music is by Tim Blaine. You can read our critically acclaimed newsletter and get notified about new podcasts and[01:07:00]videos We've got fantastic t-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, and more at our store.

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Have a great day and thanks for giving a shit.