Marine biologists and ocean scientists are somewhat of a tribe unto themselves. They spend weeks and months in cramped conditions aboard research vessels, doing science that’s a bit unlike any other science, and drinking enough to make Jack Sparrow proud. So it’s perfectly natural that their tribe would have some unique customs.
I discovered one of those today: Sending styrofoam cups to the bottom of the ocean as souvenirs.
When exploring deep ocean trenches and thermal vents, it’s usually a robot or a high-tech manned submersible doing the dirty work. The Cayman trough (where the top cup went) is home to some of the world’s deepest hydrothermal vents. At around 5,000 meters deep, the cup experiences nearly 500 times the pressure we experience at sea level. And since styrofoam is a foam made of air pockets inside a hydrocarbon polymer, it compresses under the added weight!
The bottom cup began as a normal-sized drinking utensil. But after it went to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (the world’s deepest point), it returned the size of a ketchup packet. The pressure down there is about a thousand times higher than at the surface!