An international team of scientists spanning 45 institutions in 17 countries has called for a dedicated decade-long program of research to greatly advance discovery in the deep oceans. The program – which scientists have named Challenger 150 – will coincide with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which runs from 2021-2030.
Among the team members is Lisa Levin, a biological oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Levin is an expert on deep-ocean ecology and has documented damage caused by human activities even in the most remote expanses of the seas ranging from deoxygenation to destruction of seafloor communities by practices such as trawling.
“Scripps Institution of Oceanography is well positioned to make valuable contributions to this program,” Levin said. “Our scientists study an array of deep-sea ecosystems from the trenches to the mesopelagic in diverse regions, contributing to deep-ocean exploration, observation and mechanistic understanding.”
The deep seas – vast expanses of water and seabed hidden more than 200 meters (650 feet) below the ocean surface to depths up to 11,000 meters (36,000 feet) – are recognized globally as an important frontier of science and discovery.
But despite the fact that they account for around 60 percent of Earth’s surface, large areas remain completely unexplored, yet the habitats they support impact the health of the entire planet.
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.
“The scientific community has a unique opportunity and considerable challenge (pun intended) over the next decade to diversify and build the capacity to acquire the knowledge needed to sustainably manage and conserve deep-ocean ecosystems and the services they provide the planet,” Levin said.
Among Challenger 150’s 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 program 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 fiber optic cables, and conservation.
The international team 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.
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 program demands, with authors from the six inhabited continents of the world. They note that the UN Decade provides an unrivaled opportunity to unite the international science community to deliver a giant leap in our knowledge of the deep seas.
Scripps Director Margaret Leinen serves as a member of the executive planning group for the United Nations’ Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
The years 2022-2026 mark the 150th anniversary of the voyage of HMS Challenger. This ship left the UK in 1876 on a four-year mission, circumnavigating the globe, mapping the seafloor, recording the global ocean temperature, and providing a first panoramic view of life in the deep seas.
The Challenger Deep – the deepest known point of the ocean – is named after it, as were a number of vessels in NASA’s space programs. However, whereas the original HMS Challenger crew was all-white and all-male, the Challenger 150 program aims to harness its scientific sense of discovery through a modern-day, inclusive and representative spirit of collaboration.
Endorsed by the authors of the current studies, more information about Challenger 150 is available at https://challenger150.world.
– Adapted from Plymouth Marine Laboratory
About Scripps Oceanography
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.
About UC San Diego
At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at ucsd.edu.