Scientists Call for Decade of Concerted Effort to Enhance Understanding of the Deep Seas

Photo of Black corals on the ocean floor in an Irish submarine canyon. Photo taken with the ROV Holland I deployed from RV Celtic Explorer. Expeditions funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Marine Institute.
Nov 26 2020 Posted: 07:20 GMT

NUI Galway scientist among international team proposing the ‘Challenger 150’ programme to understand how changes in the deep sea impact the wider ocean and life on the planet

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.

Among its key areas of focus are to build greater capacity and diversity in the scientific community, acknowledging the fact that existing deep-sea research is conducted primarily by developed nations with access to resources and infrastructure.

The programme will use this new knowledge of the deep to support regional, national, and international decision-making on deep-sea issues such as mining, hydrocarbon extraction, fishing, climate mitigation, laying of fibre optic cables and conservation.

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.

Led by members of the Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative (DOSI) and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), the authorship reflects both the gender and geographical diversity such a programme demands, with authors from the six inhabited continents of the World.

They note that the UN Decade provides an unrivalled opportunity to unite the international science community to deliver a giant leap in our knowledge of the deep seas.

Kerry Howell, Professor of Deep-Sea Ecology at the University of Plymouth (UK) and lead author of the research publications, said: “The deep seas and seabed are increasingly being used by society, and they are seen as a potential future asset for the resources they possess. But managing these resources sustainably requires that we first understand deep-sea ecosystems and their role in our planet, its people and its atmosphere. Our vision is for a 10 year programme of science and discovery that is global in scale and targeted towards proving the science to inform decisions around deep-ocean use. We believe the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science provides the perfect opportunity to achieve that.”

Dr Ana Hilario, Researcher at the University of Aveiro (Portugal) and co-lead of the DOSI and SCOR Decade working groups, added: “The Decade also provides the opportunity to build a long-term programme for training and capacity building in ocean sciences. With Challenger 150, we aim to train the next generation of deep-sea biologists and focus on training scientists from developing countries, but also early stage scientists from all nations. Such training will create a network of enhanced capacity that will allow countries to exercise their full role in international discussions on the use of ocean resources within and outside of their national boundaries.”

For more information about Challenger 150, see: and Deep-Ocean Stewardship Initiative, visit:

To read the paper in Frontiers in Marine Science, visit:


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