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A New First - AMC Alumnus becomes deepest diving Australian & Sub Pilot

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DSSV Pressure Drop, Challenger Deep, Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean.

On 8th April 2021, Tim Macdonald, a proud Australian and Alumnus of the Australian Maritime College, set off alongside good friend Rob McCallum, New Zealand, in a submersible to dive to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, Mariana Trench, the deepest point of the world’s ocean.

At a depth of 10,925 meters Tim successfully piloted the DSV Limiting Factor setting a depth record as the deepest diving Australian submersible Pilot. The successful dive was announced from the DSSV Pressure Drop; the expedition’s 68m support ship currently located 360kms SW of Guam. To add to his achievements, he is now qualified as the third ever pilot of this submersible. “It is a tremendous privilege to be able to operate a vehicle where every dive is into the unknown.  This presents some challenges, but it also presents almost limitless opportunities,” said Macdonald.

The 12-hour dive was completed in the world’s only submersible certified for operations at any depth in any ocean—the DSV ‘Limiting Factor. ‘The submersible, a Triton 36,000/2 owned by Caladan Oceanic, is the world’s only private full-ocean-depth vehicle and is best known as having taken humans to the deepest point in each of the world’s five oceans during the world record breaking Five Deeps Expedition in 2019.  The two-seat submersible is capable of withstanding pressures of up to 1,400 bar. That's akin to having 11,000 tonnes per square meter at full ocean depth. The pressure on the hatch alone is equivalent to 2,200 tonnes or five fully laden 747’s.

The dive’s primary purpose was to test acoustic navigation equipment that will be used as an aid to deep ocean research.  When operating at extreme depths, researchers need to rely on acoustic telemetry to navigate and know precisely where samples were collected. “It was a busy dive but we took the time to set a light-hearted world record; the world’s deepest ever vegemite sandwich, and Anzac biscuits; which is something only Australasian’s really understand” said Macdonald.

The expedition team conducted a series of technical acoustic tracking exercises and ran a 2000m long high-definition camera transect.  During the dive the submersible interacted with three autonomous ‘landers’ that had been placed on the seafloor prior to the dive and used its manipulator to collect geological samples. “This privately funded vehicle is poised to make some of the greatest gains in ocean science.  It demonstrates both our new ability to reach into the hadal zone, but also of the importance that private funding will play in the future exploration of the deep ocean.”

With Tim’s ocean exploration opportunities, he has worked in a range of on-board teams of up to 34 members who work in ship operations, ocean mapping, science, sub technical and outreach.  A recent dive including longtime friends and AMC Alumni, Reuben Kent and James Keane, who work with deep water communications and underwater navigation in their respective roles in Australia.

Tim completed his Maritime Engineering degree with a specialization in Marine and Offshore Systems which equipped him to be a critical part of the design and build team for the submersible, he is also the Engineering and Operations Lead for Caladan Oceanic’s underwater operations. While wanting to share his story of ocean exploration across the globe, he shares a passion for growing awareness of STEM study to our next generation.

“Engineering is interesting because there are so many opportunities available to you, and the principles can be applied to so many varied aspects of life” advises Macdonald.

The team is now headed to Australia to conduct science research deep in the Indian Ocean, a joint project with the Minderoo University of Western Australia Deep-sea center sponsored by Andrew Forrest.

Tim Macdonald – Five Deeps Expedition

Tim Macdonald – Above and Beyond Podcast

Published on: 02 Jun 2021