A team of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), University of Hawaii, Whitman College and international colleagues will conduct the first systematic study of life in the deepest marine habitat on Earthocean trenches, which are regions of the sea floor ranging from 19,685 to 36,089 feet (6,000 to 11,000 meters).
Due to the extreme pressures and the technical challenges involved in reaching this depth, known as the hadal zone, trenches are among the least studied environments on the planet. Filmmaker James Cameron's dive on March 26, 2012, to the Challenger Deepthe world's deepest regionin the Mariana Trench marked only the second time in 52 years that a human occupied vehicle has reached that area of the seafloor.
"Over the years, we've made large leaps in understanding life at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, seeps and seamounts, but we know relatively little about life in our ocean trenches," said Tim Shank, a deep-sea biologist at WHOI and lead investigator on the Hadal Ecosystem Studies (HADES) program.
Shank and his colleagues were awarded a $1.4 million collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation for a three-year program of studies in the deepest parts of the world's ocean. The program includes international collaborators at the University of Aberdeen (UA) in Scotland, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand, and The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) at the University of Southampton.
"The program is global in scope. The goal is to conduct detailed studies of the composition, diversity, and adaptations of life in the major deep ocean trenches and then compare these findings between the trenches around the world," said Shank.
The work of the HADES program is made possible by recent advances in imaging technology, as well as the sampling and exploration capabilities of Nereus, a deep-diving Hybrid Remotely Operated Vehicle developed at WHOI. Conceived in 2000, it to
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution