Marine Life Talk at NOC in Southampton

Exploring the Deep Sea

Exploring the Deep Sea: how new technology is giving us unprecedented access to our planet’s largest ecosystem

Dr Kerry Howell is Associate Professor in deep sea ecology at Plymouth University

The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on earth. From the earliest days of the Challenger Expedition our understanding of the deep sea has been limited by the technology available to us to study it. Our knowledge of the shape of the seafloor was originally based on soundings taken with lead lines, and knowledge of the animals that live on the sea bed has been largely pieced together from what we can bring up in a trawl.

We have learned a lot. We understand that the seafloor is marked by great mountain ranges, and trenches. We know that the range of species we find in the deep sea changes with geographical region and with depth. But our knowledge of finer scale patterns is limited. However, in the last 50 years technological developments have opened up our ability to study this environment. The use of manned submersibles, and more recently robots, have allowed us to observe animals in their own environment. We can now study more challenging terrain such as the slopes of underwater mountains, and canyon systems. Our ability to map the seafloor has been greatly enhanced by the use of satellite measurements and acoustic systems.

Our next great challenge is how to interpret the vast datasets we can now acquire. Here again technology, in the form of artificial intelligence and computer vision, will facilitate the next great leap in our understanding.

View the talk here


Dr Kerry Howell is Associate Professor in deep sea ecology at Plymouth University, and head of the Deep Sea Conservation Research Unit. She is an expert in deep-sea ecology and marine conservation. Her research is focused on understanding patterns in seafloor biodiversity (where animals are found on the deep-sea floor, and why they are found where they are). Her research is used to help make decisions around how we use the deep-sea environment, particularly in the design of marine protected area networks.

Kerry has studied the deep-sea fauna of the North East Atlantic for more than 18 years, working on seamounts, canyons, the continental slope and abyssal plain. She has lead several major expeditions and dived in a manned submersible. Her group are currently pioneering the use of artificial intelligence to interpret image data from autonomous underwater vehicles (robots).

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Marine Life Talks
These talks are usually held on the first Thursday of each month (except in January) at 7pm in the Henry Charnock Lecture Theatre, National Oceanography Centre. Please sign in outside the lecture theatre on level four.

All talks are free and open to members of the public.

Upcoming talks

1 February – tbc
1 March – Dr Lucy Woodall, Oxford University – microplastics
5 April – Dr Nick Higgs, University of Plymouth – deep sea whale falls
3 May – tbc
7 June – Dr Jonthan White, author
5 July – tbc
August – no MLT due to holiday break

Click here to view a recording of the previous Marine Life Talk: 7 December 2017 – Little fish, big problems – identifying the habitat needs of juvenile fishes – Ben Ciotti


Event dates: 
Thursday 11 January 2018 - 19:00