Today we mourn the loss of The Nereus, a research robot that was exploring the Kermedec Trench, north east of New Zealand. This trench is one of the deepest parts of the ocean, and the pressure there was too much for The Nereus to handle. It imploded late last week while exploring the depths for us.
Nereus was one of the few robots which could handle traveling that deep underwater at all. It was a one-of-a-kind robot built by the team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and cost $8 million. The robot was currently part of a three-year project researching deep sea ecosystems and creatures. Because it could travel so deep, it was able to explore for unknown ocean trench creatures. Larry Madin, director of research at Woods Hole, told The Boston Globe, “Without Nereus, we currently have nothing that will enable us to reach that part of the ocean."
Director James Cameron also has a history for The Nereus; it played a part in his 2012 descent to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. He called the implosion of The Nereus a "tragic loss for science" and said it was a "dark day for many reasons." Cameron was very distraught about the loss, saying ''I feel like I've lost a friend. Nereus was an amazing, groundbreaking robot and the only currently active vehicle in the world that could reach the extreme depths of the ocean trenches.''
Scientists become very attached to their robots during these research expeditions, and the loss of one can deter them from their work. Cameron dealt with a similar experience while losing a robot in his exploration of the Titanic wreckage, and empathized with the Nereus research team.
Luckily, new versions of The Nereus are being built now and hopefully deep sea creature research will be back on track soon.