Professor Louise Allcock, Head of Zoology and Director of the Ryan Institute’s Centre for Ocean Research and Exploration at NUI Galway, is part of an international team of scientists who have called for a dedicated decade-long programme of research to greatly advance discovery in the remote regions of the deep seas and learn how they impact the wider ocean and life on the planet.
The deep seas – vast expanses of water and seabed hidden more than 200 metres below the ocean surface to depths up to 11,000 metres – are recognised globally as an important frontier of science and discovery.
But despite the fact they account for around 60% of Earth’s surface area, large areas remain completely unexplored, yet the habitats they support impact on the health of the entire planet.
The international team spanning 45 institutions in 17 countries, presented the rationale behind the call for action in a comment article in Nature Ecology and Evolution, simultaneously publishing a detailed blueprint of how the actions can be best achieved in Frontiers in Marine Science.
The programme, which scientists have named ‘Challenger 150’ will coincide with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which runs from 2021-2030.
Challenger 150 will generate new geological, physical, biogeochemical, and biological data through a global cooperative of science and innovation, including the application of new technology. These data will be used to understand how changes in the deep sea impact the wider ocean and life on the planet.
Professor Louise Allcock, one of the authors of the detailed blueprint paper, said: “The next ten years are going to be critical for our oceans - we MUST ensure that our oceans are used sustainably. This field-programme blueprint maps out how nations can share knowledge, equipment, and expertise, and develop capacity in deep-sea science across the world. By working to joint protocols, we can produce global datasets that answer broad questions about ocean diversity and resilience that cannot be answered by any one nation alone. Such knowledge can inform policy development and ensure our oceans are protected such that they also sustain future generations.”
Recent expeditions led by NUI Galway, aboard the national research vessel RV Celtic Explorer, and deploying the deep-water remotely operated vehicle ROV Holland I, have shown the Irish deep sea to be richly diverse. The proposed international programme will help scientists understand connectivity within and among oceans, and how best to conserve this rich biodiversity. These deep-sea ecosystems play a very important role in carbon storage, so maintaining their quality is paramount in the face of rising carbon dioxide levels and global climate change.