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What Is the Deepest Depth a Submarine Can Go?

Margaret Lipman
Updated May 20, 2024
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A small submarine, the bathyscape Trieste, made it to 10,916 meters (35,813 feet) below sea level in the deepest point in the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, a few hundred miles east of the Philippines. This part of the ocean is 11,034 m (36,200 ft) deep, so it seems that a submarine can make it as deep as it's theoretically possible to go. The water pressure at this depth is over 1000 atmospheres. Life does exist here, as well as a carpet of diatomaceous material that covers all the ocean floors of the world.

Trieste was manned by two people and funded by the United States Navy. The pressure sphere used was 2.16 m (6.5 ft) across, with steel walls 12.7 cm (5 inches) thick, able to withstand 1.25 metric tons per cm2 (110 MPa) of pressure. The pressure sphere of Trieste, which weighed 8 metric tons in water, was not neutrally-buoyant because the steel had to be so thick for a 2 m-sized sphere at that depth to withstand the pressure that it would have sunk like a rock on its own. Therefore Trieste's pressure sphere had to be attached to a series of gasoline floats, accompanied by iron pellets for weight.

Initially weighing slightly more than water, the craft descended 10.9 km (6.77 miles) below sea level. At the bottom, the pellets were ejected, and the buoyant gasoline floats carried Trieste back to the top. This feat has never been replicated by a manned craft, although several unmanned submersibles have since explored the Challenger Deep.

what is the deepest depth a submarine can go

The deepest-diving large, military-style submarine was the Soviet submarine K-278 Komsomolets, with a hull made of titanium, making it very expensive, but able to withstand significantly deeper dives than the best submarines made of high-grade steel, like American nuclear submarines. The Komsomolets was a nuclear powered submarine specially designed to make trips as far down as 1300 meters (4265 feet) below sea level, definitely less than the Trieste, but very significant because the Komsomolets had to "defend" a much larger air bubble against the encroaching pressure of the surrounding ocean.

Compared to the best American nuclear submarines, of the Seawolf class, Komsomolets had about 78% better diving capabilities. Seawolf submarines have an estimated crush depth of about 2400 feet (730 m). The Seawolf submarines are constructed of a high grade steel called HY-100, capable of withstanding 100 atmospheres of pressure. As a rule of thumb, the pressure increases by one atmosphere for every 10 m of descent.

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Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman , Writer and editor
Margaret Lipman is an experienced writer and educator who produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.

Discussion Comments

By anon999530 — On Jan 24, 2018

Some people have very vivid imaginations (concrete torpedoes). Maybe in Hollywood, but not in real life. That seems about as unrealistic as a torpedo that un-explodes?

By anon962903 — On Jul 26, 2014

IF BP oil techs can’t guarantee these sort of ocean killing events won't happen, then no contracts! They could easily fit pressure sensing valves to have an auto shutdown function in case of pressure loss through a leak, etc. My father was a lifelong plumbing engineer, and if he didn't use these sorts of things, a leak happened and was not difficult to rectify. If oil pipelines fail, there are huge problems, like pollution etc, so why are there no safety valves? I know it's supposedly sorted now, but how long until the next disaster? They still use single skinned oil tankers in most cases to save costs to build ships, yet it’s proven to be much safer to use double skinned ships.

Want to talk about fuels used in most cargo shipping? No? Well, I do. They use "bunker fuels," a solid tar like substance, so polluting that one ship equals the particulates/noxious fumes of 15 million cars, and had 3,000 of these ships are using these fuels on order, yet make us pay carbon taxes for our pollution. Criminals! Now they are fracking and spoiling our fresh water aquifers/water table.

We are doomed If we continue voting in evil men. Don't believe them. Vote an independent into power. The biggest Jewish funder of right wing US presidents had all four candidates at his place asking them who would do most for him/Israel. I thought he (the president) is there to do what people vote him to do.

By anon120463 — On Oct 21, 2010

It is incorrect that not life exists at that depth. The Trieste got a picture of some type of flat fish right before it hit bottom and silt clouded everything.

By anon94844 — On Jul 10, 2010

First, forget any sort of projectile. This is more likely to destroy what is there and make it harder to deal with the wreckage of what is left which will now be releasing oil all over the place. Anyway, submarines are designed to shoot missiles up, not down.

What people do not realize is that this is not just a "pipe" and that there is not just an open end spewing out oil. The drill pipe is inside a riser, which connects the drill rig to the BOP. This is a steel structure about one meter in diameter and built very strong. Also, since people have not been on a rig doing these operations, they have no idea how difficult it is working at these depths.

Secondly, there are actually at least three points where the oil is coming out because when the rig sank, the riser was collapsed on itself into a tangled mass on the seabed. They are just trying to control the worst leak. They did try to block this with a sleeve and packer, but could not because of the way the pipes are on the seabed and the way the end is ripped open.

Mr Irizany is right, the only permanent solution is the side-track well to piece the well casing and pump in heavy mud to kill the well. --A subsea engineer.

By anon94697 — On Jul 09, 2010

just when i thought i had a brilliant idea. get a sub, put all the execs from BP in it, dive the sub to the hole and let it sit on top of the hole till they can figure out how to stop the leak. oh well, you can tell I'm not a military person.

By anon94060 — On Jul 07, 2010

Look -- the ocean is very cold at this depth. That's caused a lot of the problems. You would think that they could just send down a system to deliver liquid nitrogen to the well head. They could just freeze the oil, the sea water and any mud they want to send down into a large ball of ice. Then just encase the whole thing in sea concrete. Seal it off forever. They did not have a plan for this. Why drill for oil when you could just mine the methane hydride that down there anyway? Or just scrape it from under the snow in Alaska?

By anon93819 — On Jul 06, 2010

There is only one-way to stop the oil leak. A rich mixture of mud and golf-ball-sized gravel should be pumped into the well. The gravel will give the mixture weight and density causing the mud and gravel to stick together. At the depth in which the leak is coming from the cold water will cause the rich mixture to become much denser, adding weight suppressing downward on the oil trying to come up.

Once this is accomplished, you can then pump a mixture with cement and gravel, liquidized enough so that it would not solidify until it gets to the depth needed to do the job.

Also, dropping sawdust on the oil will make it easier to skim it up by large oil tankers, making it possible to be transport to the appropriate location where it can be separated and stored for future use. Sawdust is non toxic and will not harm the environment. It is a very easy thing to do when you have the equipment in place.

I believe they did have the right equipment, however they did not use it the right way, nor had the right mixture of the mud and gravel soup which would have ended the leak.

Respectfully, R. Irizarry, Sr., Ph.D

By anon93394 — On Jul 03, 2010

Are you nuts? A cement filled missile? How big do you think that would be to carry cement to equal the 420 barrels of heavy mud that BP has on hand to plug it?

By Em4ce — On Jun 22, 2010

the tent idea is good - but it has been tried using a steel "hut" and it froze up. Cannot imagine the same would not happen with plastic?

By anon91511 — On Jun 22, 2010

How about dropping a large fabric (vinyl) tent like structure with a hose attached to the center peak, anchored at various points around the edges with concrete blocks that could collect the outflow und guide it into holding vessels on the surface?

By anon90752 — On Jun 17, 2010

Submarines maximum depth is 4345 feet and there is only one sub that can do this. The US sub's maximum is 3400 feet.

By anon90512 — On Jun 16, 2010

If the pipe was squeezed closed close to ocean floor, pipe under it could stand pressure! anon

By anon90417 — On Jun 16, 2010

what i don't understand is why they don't get a container slightly larger than the pipe, put it over the pipe and secure it to the sea floor then cover it with the heavy mud yeah they wouldn't be able to get any more oil but it would stop the leak.

but they don't want to let go of the oil supply, so they keep coming up with these ideas. if we do this we can still get the oil and stop the leak. they just need to stop the leak.

By Em4ce — On Jun 14, 2010

The balloon idea would work in theory. But remember, you would have to overcome the gushing to insert into the pipe and then overcome the pressure of the oil well and the sea to expand and seal and stay in place - pretty hard to visualize that - but yes, it does work on lower pressure stuff.

By anon90053 — On Jun 14, 2010

The only sensible idea is the pipe insertion and sealing, which could not be done initially because it was not a "clean straight cut," so BP tried to cut the pipe off which they messed up and therefore the plan kind of worked but there's still a lot leaking because the seal isn't good.

What I can't understand is why the leak continues at the same rate. With the massive sea pressure as relief of the pressure through an open leak it should slow and stop naturally, like letting pressure out of a balloon?

By anon89685 — On Jun 11, 2010

why can't they use a balloon type device on a slightly smaller pipe, then insert into the BOP head where they cut the pipe from, and expand it to seal the gap between while the oil continues up the new pipe to the rig? I got the idea from my balloon I use on my hose to clean out my kitchen drain.

By anon89313 — On Jun 09, 2010

The pipe doesn't crush because it has a relatively high surface to volume ratio compared to a submarine. It doesn't really have anything to do with the oil inside of it, since it is spewing and thus no longer pressurized.

The reason they're probably not crushing the pipe closed is because it would then pressurize the pipe again, and possibly rupture the pipe where there may be near subsurface damage, making the problem worse.

By anon89140 — On Jun 08, 2010

We need a mile of pipe! Stat!

By anon89024 — On Jun 08, 2010

what if two subs were on each side of the leak and pinched the pipe closed? they would not even have to be subs, just really heavy weights lowered to the surface sort of like two fat men pinching a little man in a hallway.

By anon88877 — On Jun 07, 2010

Why can't we drop in a slightly smaller pipe inside the existing pipe and seal it with a stainless steel compression fitting? The pressure would still be vented via the smaller pipe but would now be contained to the surface where it could be loaded to ships.

By anon88175 — On Jun 03, 2010

The pressure in a open pipe, at any depth, is the same or slightly higher than the external pressure, if it is leaking.

Well head pressures are almost the same as the oil pressures miles deeper, so the pipe has more reason to explode than to collapse.

Submarines built with open windows can dive to any depth because the pressure inside is equal to the pressure outside, but it isn't very warm or dry, and breathing is difficult.

By anon87734 — On Jun 01, 2010

@anon87613 - The oil pipe hasn't crushed because it's also full of fluid, not full of air like a submarine.

@anon87530 - I doubt that blowing it up would stop the leak, and even if it did, we'd just be trading an oil leak for a radioactive mess.

Re: Submarines with cement missiles -

I doubt this would work. Military submarines aren't equipped for pipeline repair work, and missile or torpedoes aren't suitable delivery vehicles for cement. It would be better off to use the systems already in place which are designed for this kind of work.

By anon87613 — On May 31, 2010

If a submarine would be crushed at a depth of about 3000 feet, why hasn't the ocean pressure crushed the leaking oil pipe shut?

By anon87530 — On May 31, 2010

a small nuclear warhead could stop the leak.

By anon87502 — On May 30, 2010

re: submarine with cement filled missile --seems like the best idea there is so far.

By anon86548 — On May 25, 2010

is it possible for a military submarine which can go very deep to arm with missiles filled with cement to aim into the Gulf oil leak?

By anon84104 — On May 13, 2010

The question is what submarine could work around the BP, Gulf oil spill?

By anon12663 — On May 11, 2008

what are some not commonly known submarine facts?

Margaret Lipman

Margaret Lipman

Writer and editor

Margaret Lipman is an experienced writer and educator who produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide...
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