Biological Diversity and Ecosystems

Deep Sea Biodiversity and Ecosystems

In the next five years, we aim to take significant steps in the advancement of our knowledge concerning the biological diversity and ecosystems of the deep sea frontier

The Challenge

The deep sea harbours a spectacular diversity of life, from tiny microbes to large corals and fishes. Around 97% of the Ocean’s biome occurs below 200 metres depth and this life performs many key ecosystem functions, from the cycling of carbon and nutrients to fisheries provision. The deep sea may also provide solutions to societal challenges, such as alternatives to mining on land and options for sequestering carbon to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

Yet human activity in the deep-sea has been escalating, with increasing fishing pressure and greater numbers of oil and gas wells being drilled. Furthermore, research has shown that climate variation can readily influence deep seafloor ecology over timescales that are similar to terrestrial habitats.

However, the deep sea is a very challenging habitat to research. Therefore working to understand human impacts is a core part of the NOC’s research.

Our Research

Our research aims to answer the general question: What are the influences on, and implications of, biogeochemical and ecological change on the seafloor? Answering this question involves investing in advanced technology development, since the deep sea is among the least accessible habitats on the planet. These developments include Autosub6000 and Autosub Long Range, as well as the sensors they carry to measure different aspects of the deep sea.

The NOC also works with industries operating in deep water to collect and interpret information about the deep sea. This includes advising on baseline and environmental survey work and researching the potential impacts of specific nascent activities, like seafloor mining. Our research is also increasingly focused on understanding how to efficiently asses the effectiveness of marine protected areas for the protection of vulnerable habitats or species. Additionally, we are actively seeking to understand how the deep seafloor, or sub-seafloor, can act as a reservoir to sequester carbon from the atmosphere to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.

How this provides a benefit to society

Our research on the Biological Diversity and Ecosystems of the Deep Sea Frontier helps provide clear and objective scientific evidence to inform policies on resource use and the protection of the environment, its biodiversity and function. The NOC regularly provides advice to government and international regulatory bodies, like the Department of Environment, food and rural affairs (Defra), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the United Nations International Seabed Authority (ISA).