At age 61, Dawn Wright has now officially become the first person of African descent to reach the deepest known point on Earth’s surface. She is also the 27th overall human and only the fifth woman ever to reach this extremity. Her journey marks the culmination of a lifetime of struggles, that culminated in an incredible scientific expedition that saw her perform the first high-resolution mapping of Challenger Deep in history in about ten hours of pitch-black darkness and deafening silence.
Subsequent to her success expedition, Mrs. Wright shared her early life experiences with the CBS News. Born in Maui, Hawaii, she had already determined to become a marine geologist at the age of eight, inspired by the exploits of Apollo 11 in outer space around the same time. There were few Black people and even fewer women in the field of oceanography in the 1970s and ‘80s, but she never gave up on her dream. Working as a marine technician in her youth, Wright found that some of her co-workers “Did not believe that women should be there”, but she persisted. She is now associated with the Environmental Systems Research Institute.
She was encouraged by her ambitious mother her entire life. Sadly, she passed away last December before being able to congratulate her daughter on her greatest achievement yet. Mrs. Wright still expressed optimism, proclaiming: “She is watching from heaven”.
Challenger Deep is the lowest known point on Earth’s surface, bearing the weight of 36,000 feet of water (for context, Mount Everest is around 29,000 feet) and 100,000 tons of atmospheric pressure above it. It is situation near the southern end of the humongous Mariana Trench, in a small slot-shaped valley 200 miles southwest of the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
Ocean is still one of the biggest mysteries of humanity in the twenty-first century. So far, less than 20 % of world’s oceans have been adequately mapped and much, much less have actually been explored, with huge voids of the foggy unknown lying between a few spots that have been researched. Last year, the United Nations launched by far the most ambitious program ever in this capacity, creating new opportunities for marine geographers in its quest to achieve 80 % mapping by the year 2030. Mrs. Wright contributed the most difficult step of this program last month when she mapped Challenger Deep in high detail with a side-scan sonar for the first time in history.