Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

DESCENT: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss

Brad Matsen

Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Pacific Forum – 3:00 p.m.

In 1930, William Beebe and Otis Barton plummeted 3000 feet beneath the ocean in a steel sphere named the Bathysphere. At a time when no one had traveled deeper than 350 feet, Beebe and Barton in the early 1930s made numerous dives that revealed a world of eternal darkness, filled with nightmarish creatures beyond what anyone had imagined. In DESCENT: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss, acclaimed science writer Brad Matsen brings to life the forgotten story of two men and their wonderous visions of the world beneath the sea. Beebe and Barton shared an obsession with deep-sea exploration, and viewed the ocean as the next great undiscovered country. The two men came from different backgrounds: Beebe was an internationally-renowned playboy naturalist and ornithologist, with friends in both scientific and financial circles; Barton was a socially ill-at-ease New York heir who dreamed of being a renowned explorer. Barton’s vision created the Bathysphere—a simple, elegant sphere with portholes tethered to a support ship by steel cable. And it was Beebe’s connection to the oceanographic research station on Nonsuch Island off of Bermuda, along with his ability to create publicity surrounding whatever he did, that launched the Bathysphere with himself and Barton aboard in June of 1930. Matsen illuminates with vivid prose Beebe and Barton’s dramatic and ground-breaking achievements and their aftermath—as even with their success, a growing rift left the two great adventurers on barely more than speaking terms. DESCENT resurrects a thrilling moment in a great age of exploration. It is a fascinating account of one of the seminal scientific ventures of the 20th century, a tale of man and nature going to the depths of the sea at the height of the Depression.