Friday, April 11, 2014

WHOI NEREUS: Scientists use ROV to explore Kermadec Trench‎

Researchers will use the deep-submergence vehicle Nereus in their explorations. 

Credit: WHOI

What lives in the deepest part of the ocean, the abyss?

A team of researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) will use the world's only full-ocean-depth, hybrid, remotely-operated vehicle, Nereus, and other advanced technology to find out.

They will explore the Kermadec Trench at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

The trench, located off New Zealand, is the fifth deepest trench in the world. Its maximum depth is 32,963 feet or 6.24 miles (10,047 meters).

It's also one of the coldest trenches due to the inflow of deep waters from Antarctica.

The 40-day expedition to the Kermadec Trench, which begins on April 12, 2014, kicks off a three-year collaborative effort.

The project, known as the Hadal Ecosystem Studies Project (HADES), will conduct the first systematic study of life in ocean trenches, comparing it to the neighbouring abyssal plains, flat areas of the seafloor usually found at depths between 9,843 and 19,685 feet (3,000 and 6,000 meters).

David Garrison
"The proposal to study the deep-sea environment as part of HADES was high-risk, but, we hope, also high-reward," says David Garrison, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funds HADES.

"Through this exciting project, we will shine a light into the darkness of Earth's deep-ocean trenches, discovering surprising results all along the way."

Among least-explored environments on Earth
A result of extreme pressures in these deep-sea environments and the technical challenges involved in reaching them, ocean trenches remain among the least-explored environments on the planet.

Tim Shank
"We know relatively little about life in ocean trenches, the deepest marine habitats on Earth," says Tim Shank, a biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one of the participating organizations.

"We didn't have the technology to do these kinds of detailed studies before. This will be a first-order look at community structure, adaptation and evolution: how life exists in the trenches."

NSF HADES principal investigators are Tim Shank, Jeff Drazen of the University of Hawaii and Paul Yancey of Whitman College.

Telepresence technology aboard the NOAA research vessel Thomas G. Thompson will allow the public to share in the discoveries.

Live-streaming Web events from the seafloor will include narration from the science team.

The researchers' work will also be chronicled in video, still images and blog updates on the expedition website.

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