"Exploring the Ocean's Deep Interior"



Bruce H. Robison

Senior Scientist,

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)


The deep waters of the world ocean comprise the largest living-space on Earth. Within this dark realm are the largest animal communities on the planet. Yet despite the obvious importance of this enormous fauna to global ecology, the deep ocean remains the least explored and least understood of Earth's major ecosystems. In the last decade technological advances have greatly improved our access to this remote and hostile habitat. In particular, a new generation of undersea vehicles has opened up the oceanic water column to direct observation and research.


Exploration of the ocean's deep interior has revealed a fauna that is uniquely adapted to its harsh surroundings. Many of these animals have improbable shapes and grow to extraordinary sizes. Some are highly evolved versions of life forms known to us from shallow water, while others are living fossils that evolution has passed by. Bioluminescence is the principal means of visual communication at depth, and light production is often linked to complex behavior patterns.


Among the most significant discoveries of recent exploration is that gelatinous animals are far more important than was ever suggested by traditional sampling methods. This diverse and fascinating group of animals constitutes a fundamental yet still undescribed branch of the oceanic food web. On a global scale, deep waters surely contain the greatest remaining component of Earth's undiscovered biodiversity. Continued exploration is revealing new life forms, new communities, and new ocean-scale ecological patterns.



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