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An international team of scientists spanning 45 institutions in 17 countries, including two in Scotland, has called for a decade-long programme of research into the ‘deep seas’.
The 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 per cent of earth’s surface area, large areas remain completely unexplored; yet the habitats they support impact on the health of the entire planet.
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.
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.
The authors on the papers include Prof Bhavani Narayanaswamy at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban who said: ‘The deep sea is by far the largest ecosystem on planet earth with a plethora of species and a variety of different habitats.’
The papers also note that the UN Decade provides an unrivalled opportunity to unite the international science community to deliver a giant leap in knowledge of the deep seas.
Prof Narayanaswamy, who lives in Taynuilt, added: ‘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.’
Dr David Bailey from the University of Glasgow, who is the only other Scot involved in the programme, added: ‘I am proud to be associated with this vision for a future programme of research and education.
‘I believe it will uncover many secrets of the deep ocean, bring them to a wide
audience, and inspire the protection needed.’
Kerry Howell, professor of deep-sea ecology at the University of Plymouth (UK) and lead author of the research publications, said: ‘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.’
Endorsed by the authors of the current studies, more information about Challenger 150 is available at https://challenger150.world.