What Is the Mariana Trench and Where Is It?

The Deepest Point in the Ocean

Artist rendering of an ocean trench.

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The Mariana Trench (also called the Marianas Trench) is the deepest part of the ocean. This trench lies in an area where two of the Earth's plates (the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Plate) come together.

The Pacific plate dives under the Philippine plate, which also partially gets pulled along. It is also thought that water can be carried with it, and may contribute to strong earthquakes by hydrating rock and lubricating the plates, which might lead to a sudden slip.

There are many trenches in the ocean, but because of the location of this trench, it is the deepest. The Mariana Trench is located in an area of old seafloor that is made up of lava, which is dense and causes the seafloor to settle further. Since the trench is so far away from any rivers, it does not get filled with sediment like many other oceanic trenches. This also contributes to its extreme depth.

Where Is the Mariana Trench?

The Mariana Trench is located in the western Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines and about 120 miles east of the Mariana Islands.

In 2009, President Bush declared the area surrounding Mariana Trench as a wildlife refuge, called the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. It covers approximately 95,216 square miles.

Size

The trench is 1,554 miles long and 44 miles wide. The trench is more than five times wider than it is deep. The deepest point of the trench is known as the Challenger Deep. It is almost seven miles (over 36,000 feet) deep and it is a bathtub-shaped depression.

The trench is so deep that at the bottom, the water pressure is eight tons per square inch.

Water Temperature

The water temperature in the deepest part of the ocean is a chilly 33-39 degrees Fahrenheit, just above freezing.

Life in the Trench

The bottom of deep areas like the Mariana Trench is composed of an "ooze" made up of the shells of plankton. While the trench and areas like it haven't been fully explored, we know that there are organisms that can survive at this depth — including bacteria, microorganisms, protists, foraminifera, xenophyophores, shrimp-like amphipods, and possibly even some fish.

Exploring the Trench

The first trip to the Challenger Deep was made by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh in 1960. They didn't spend much time at the bottom and couldn't see much, as their sub kicked up too much sediment, but they did report seeing some flatfish.

Voyages to the Mariana Trench have been made since then to map the area and collect samples, but humans had not been to the deepest point in the trench until 2012. In March 2012, James Cameron successfully completed the first solo human mission to the Challenger Deep.

Sources

Jackson, Nicholas. "Racing to the Bottom: Exploring the Deepest Point on Earth." Technology, The Atlantic, July 26, 2011.

Lovett, Richard A. "How the Mariana Trench Became the Earth's Deepest Point." National Geographic News. National Geographic Partners, LLC, April 7, 2012.

"Mariana Trench." National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, June 12, 2019. 

"New View of the Deepest Trench." NASA Earth Observatory. EOS Project Science Office, 2010.

Oskin, Becky. "Mariana Trench: The Deepest Depths." Planet Earth. LiveScience, Future US, Inc., December 6, 2017, New York, NY. 

"Understanding Plate Motions." USGS, U.S. Department of the Interior, September 15, 2014.

Washington University in St. Louis. "Seismic survey at the Mariana trench will follow water dragged down into the Earth's mantle." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, March 22, 2012.