A team of scientists spanning 45 institutions in 17 countries has called for a dedicated decade-long programme of research to better understand the deep seas.
The deep seas are vast expanses of water and seabed hidden more than 200 metres below the surface of the ocean to depths of up to 11,000 metres.
They account for around 60% of the Earth’s surface area but large areas remain completely unexplored, with the habitats they support impacting the planet’s health, scientists say.
An international team has called for a dedicated programme, which they have named Challenger 150, to advance discovery in the remote regions.
The researchers presented the rationale behind their call for action in a comment article for the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, as well as a detailed blueprint in Frontiers in Marine Science.
Kerry Howell, professor of deep-sea ecology at the University of Plymouth, 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.”
The programme would coincide with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which runs from 2021 to 2030.
This would provide an opportunity to unite the international science community to deliver a large improvement in the knowledge of the deep seas, the researchers say.
The programme is named Challenger 150, as the years 2022 to 2026 mark the 150th anniversary of the voyage of HMS Challenger.
The ship left the UK in 1872 on a four-year mission, circumnavigating the globe, mapping the seafloor, recording the global ocean temperature and providing the first panoramic view of life in the deep seas.
The Challenger Deep – the deepest known point of the ocean – is named after HMS Challenger, along with a number of vessels in NASA’s space programmes.
Unlike the original HMS Challenger crew, which was all-white and all-male, the Challenger 150 programme aims to work in an inclusive and representative way.
Professor Bhavani Narayanaswamy, from the Scottish Association for Marine Science, said: “The deep sea is by far the largest ecosystem on planet earth with a plethora of species and a variety of different habitats.
“A truly global programme is required in order to not only learn more about this ecosystem and to put measures in place to manage it in a sustainable fashion, but to also train the next generation of researchers, the future custodians of the deep sea.”