What Exactly is at the Bottom of the Ocean?

Dr. Robert Ballard is one of the world’s most renowned ocean explorers, with such amazing finds as Titanic, the Battleship Bismarck and JFK’s PT1-09 to his name. But this time he’s going on a journey like no other. He’s setting out on an underwater odyssey down the world’s tallest mountain! No, it’s not Everest at 29,000 ft. It’s Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. Standing 13,800 feet above sea level, this Pacific giant also reaches down another 19,700 ft into the Alien Deep. And there he dares to enter the active crater of a huge underwater volcano. Then he comes face-to-face with the extraordinary inhabitants of the bizarre deep sea world. The following is a production journal from Alien Deep crew-member Katy Andres.

It’s a simple enough question, but the surprising part is the answer: We don’t know exactly. Despite the marvels of modern technology, breakthroughs in engineering, and the interconnected sharing of scientific knowledge across the world, we’ve only seen a little under 5 % of the ocean that covers 70 % of our planet.

As a post production associate producer on the Alien Deep crew, I happen to have had the fascinating opportunity to sift through over 125 hours worth of Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) footage from the depths of our ocean during the course of creating this single episode of Alien Deep.

While most people might consider traveling in the field more adventurous than sitting in an editing room, parts of my job felt not that different than being an explorer. Though my work included many long hours in the office, I was often reminded that I was getting to feast my eyes on some of the most alien landscapes that exist on our planet, visuals that only a handful of people have ever seen before.

Among hours and hours of gorgeous hydrothermal vents, one of my favorite moments happened to be of a giant sea turtle swimming right up into the ROV camera and pressing its face right into the lens. A curious little fellow he must have been.  I also witnessed first hand just how hard it can be to control a robotic arm on the end of a rope in intense atmospheric pressures.  Sometimes up to 15 or 20 minutes can be spent just trying to pick up one item, only to have it fall out of the robotic arm before making it into a container. Such is the glamorous life of deep sea scientists and editors.

As I was watching the ROV video, I kept in mind that compared to the hundreds of hours of footage that ocean explorers are accumulating each year, the five solid days’ worth of ROV footage (all hours combined) I looked through was only a tiny piece of a huge, watery pie. Still, the video we accumulated for this show was no small pile. In fact, this episode with 305+ hours of footage total, this episode of Alien Deep is not far from one of the largest amounts of material that has ever gone into one hour of television at NGT. In addition to the slew of ROV video, we also had over 180 hours of footage of scientists and ship expeditions across 14 countries and 6 US states over a 3 year span.  That makes a staggering total of over 300 hours of footage for one episode.  If I were to watch all that footage straight through (a feat which would probably not be physically possible), it would take me almost 13 days. All told, this episode covered 12.4 terabytes of raw footage and roughly 26 terabytes more to edit it all.  And this was only one of five episodes for this series.

Luckily digital storage and video technology prices are dropping, because hours and hours of footage from the depths of the ocean are continuing to rise to the surface, waiting for adventurous eyes to feast upon them and make new discoveries.  Some of these discoveries may not ever be able to make it on television as in the end we can only cram so much into one hour, but I can’t help but wonder what amazing undiscovered creature could be hovering just inches away from the ROV camera’s view down in the deepest part of our oceans. it’s that wonder that keeps me, Bob Ballard, and lots of people like us searching for the answer.

Tune in to the first hour of Alien Deep: Fires of Creation Sunday at 7P


  1. […] (2008). Pictured: The incredible secret world at the bottom of the sea. National Geographic (2012). What Exactly is at the Bottom of the Ocean?. National Geographic (2013). Photo Gallery: Deep-Sea Creatures. ODDE (2007). 10 Horrible Deep Sea […]

  2. Drakon Wilder
    Austin, TX
    March 5, 2014, 1:53 pm

    This fascinating discovering is amazing. The bottom of the ocean is just a vast wonder of awesomeness and excitement I’m very young to know this but i was just looking on the web ‘What is at the bottom of the ocean” and i come across this and was amazed for what i just read, so this article was so amazing that i was really stunned at what is REALLY at the bottom of the ocean.

  3. Toni O'Shay
    December 8, 2016, 4:19 pm

    My Grandfather said it was water at the bottom of the ocean.