Marine Geoscience

Marine Geoscience

The NOC marine geoscience research includes multi-disciplinary studies of seafloor and sub-seafloor environments across the world’s oceans, from the poles to the tropics, from the coast to the deepest trench.

Our research addresses major societal issues and environmental changes happening over decades to millenia in the world's oceans, such as the impacts of climate change, geohazards and seafloor resources on human populations. The NOC has an international reputation for research excellence based on technical innovation and seafloor observation.

Our science covers these areas.


  • The sea floor covers about 70% of the solid surface of planet Earth and remains one of the last frontiers for future human exploration – we study active physical and biogeochemical processes on and beneath the sea floor, using the latest ocean technologies for imaging, sampling, measuring and monitoring, to understand global impacts of the seafloor environment, and to enable the sustainable use of marine resources in the future
  • Our scientists pioneer the use of cutting-edge technologies for studying dynamic seafloor environments such as submarine canyons, giant landslides, Arctic hydrates and deep ocean hydrothermal vent systems – deploying the latest geophysical, sonar, optical and biogeochemical sensors on platforms including ships, autonomous vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, and static observatories allows us to study seafloor processes at spatial scales from individual coral polyps to huge landslides stretching from the continental shelf to the abyssal plain, and at temporal scales from the fraction of a second it takes a methane gas bubble to escape from a vent to the millions of years of Earth history captured in sediment cores
  • We conduct fundamental and applied research, and work with stakeholders to deliver world class results of societal relevance
  • Our current research includes environmental monitoring of seafloor carbon capture and storage marine protected areas, large scale landslides and tsunami risks, active sediment flows, submarine canyon systems and deep sea hydrothermal vents – covering habitat mapping, geotechnical surveying for seabed structures, evaluating environmental implications and quantifying resource potential of deep sea minerals, and estimating Arctic methane hydrate dissociation.


The NOC aims to identify, quantify and monitor the geochemical interactions between the oceans, the Earth’s interior, the continents, atmosphere and biosphere. These processes impact on the Earth’s ocean-climate system, the formation and preservation of mineral deposits and the future security of sub-seafloor carbon capture and storage. Key areas of marine geochemistry we are researching include the following.

  • Impacts of seepage from sub-seafloor storage of CO2: sub-seafloor storage of carbon dioxide is one way of reducing emissions of this greenhouse gas, but what if it were to escape from the storage reservoir?
  • Methane seepage from the Arctic seafloor: gas hydrate composed of water and gas (usually methane ) is only stable under conditions of high pressure and low temperature; as temperature rises, there are concerns that the hydrate will break down causing a release of methane into the atmosphere – a greenhouse gas 25% more effective than carbon dioxide
  • Seafloor minerals and hydrothermal systems: understanding the processes that drive hydrothermal systems, from their deep crustal sources, to their impact on ocean geochemistry and the ecosystems that surround them
  • Proxies of past environmental change: we have developed a range of chemical, isotopic and sedimentary proxies of past environmental conditions, which are used to understand the parameters that control climate change events, both historic and in the future.

We aim to understand how and why major sediment transport and hazardous events occur in the ocean. Landslides that occur underwater can be several orders of magnitude larger than their onshore landslides, and remarkably occur on seafloor gradients of just one to two degrees. Submarine slides can also trigger underwater sediment avalanches, known as turbidity currents, that travel at fast speeds (up to 20ms−1) over long distances (hundreds to thousands of kilometres). Such flows can transport globally important amounts of sediment and are a major hazard for strategically important seafloor infrastructure, such as telecommunication cables that provide 95% of all global digital data traffic including the Internet. To better understand marine geohazards, our research spans ancient past timescales through to high-resolution direct measurements of ongoing seafloor processes.

We seek to understand the societal risk posed by submarine geohazards by studying ancient rock outcrops, recent seafloor deposits, and by making direct measurements of active processes in the ocean. We aim to answer the following questions.

  • Will future climate change lead to an increased likelihood of marine geohazards such as landslides, volcanic collapses and turbidity currents?
  • How are large submarine landslides triggered, and why does such large-scale failure occur on such low gradients?
  • How do turbidity currents evolve through time and down-slope? Until recently, measurements were only possible in scaled-down experiments; we can now make direct measurements from shallow fjords to deep-water canyons using emerging technologies, including marine autonomous systems
  • What is the risk of landslides and turbidity currents to strategically important seafloor infrastructure?
  • What effects do submarine landslides and turbidity currents have on seafloor ecosystems and organic carbon transport?

One of our aims is to create an in-depth understanding of seafloor habitats, morphology and dynamic processes that occur over years to decades. To achieve this, we develop novel techniques, expertise and collaborative partnerships that enable us to undertake habitat mapping and monitoring projects in all parts of the global ocean, from coastal waters to the deep abyssal plains. The global health of seafloor habitats has a direct impact on the well-being of human populations including the sustainability of fisheries, the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, and the impacts of pollution and seafloor mining.

We have 4D mapping capabilities for spatial mapping and temporal monitoring of seafloor habitats and ecosystems, using AUVs, ROVs, sonars, optical sensors and sampling. By adopting a fully multi-disciplinary and holistic approach, we integrate multi-resolution seafloor mapping with geology, geophysics, biology, oceanography and novel technology to tackle key science questions of major significance to society. Seafloor and habitat mapping research at NOC is focussed on the following.

  • Mapping and monitoring for seafloor conservation
  • Automated seabed classification
  • Habitat distribution modelling
  • Full three-dimensional mapping (AUV- and ROV-work, 3-D photogrammetry)
  • Supporting ocean governance and management
  • Integrated submarine canyon research
  • Understanding cold-water coral habitats.

We are experts in high resolution seismic imaging of the sub-seafloor and remote prediction of sediment and rock physical properties. With our unique geophysical (rock physics) experimental laboratory and state-of-the-art seismic inversion techniques, we quantify sub-seafloor geology and fluid migration using geophysical remote sensing, especially seismic methods, to better understand geological processes impacting the seafloor its interaction with the oceans above. Marine Geophysics research at NOC is focussed on the following.

  • Seafloor methane escape
  • Arctic hydrate dissociation
  • Seafloor CO2 storage monitoring
  • Geo-acoustic inversion for seafloor geotechnical properties
  • Characterisation of seafloor mineral deposits and geological environments
  • Reservoir rock physics
  • Geopressure prediction.


NOC projects associated with this science area.

  •  SENSEnet

    An EU Framework 7 which brings together leading scientists and researchers from across Europe with the aim of developing novel sensors for the marine environment –  visit project website  


    Complex Deep-sea Environments: Mapping habitat heterogeneity As Proxy for biodiversity (CODEMAP) searches for alternative methods to quantify deep-sea biodiversity –  visit project website  


    The main objective is to assess climatic change impacts on marine transportation (including tourism), fisheries, marine mammals and the extraction of oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean –  visit project website  


    This project aims to integrate their research to inform practical applications such as marine planning, conservation and industry –  visit project website  

Other projects

CME Programme



EU Blue Mining




EU SenseOcean






NERC Marine E-Tech