Minderoo Foundation and The University of Western Australia have joined forces to establish a world-leading research centre to increase understanding about the deepest parts of the ocean.
The Minderoo-UWA Deep-Sea Research Centre has been supported with a major five-year grant from Minderoo Foundation’s Flourishing Oceans initiative.
The Centre will lead up to three expeditions a year to explore the hadal zones of the Indian Ocean and beyond.
The team will comprise a unique mix of ecologists, geneticists and geoscientists to apply a holistic approach to studying some of the most extreme marine frontiers.
Despite the deep-sea accounting for most of planet earth, research is surprisingly lagging behind that of shallower coastal regions. The very deepest — the hadal zone (6000m+) — accounts for the deepest 45 per cent of the oceans but is often omitted or underrepresented in marine science. This zone is arguably the last great frontier in marine exploration, and global ocean conservation and stewardship must account for the entire ocean, not just the shallower regions.
The centre is committed to the exploration of the deep Indian Ocean. There they will use state-of-the-art technology to assess biodiversity, habitats, genetic connectivity, evolutionary adaptation and anthropogenic impacts. These will be contextualised through continuing this work in other similar ultra-deep features around the globe.
Increasing the seafloor mapping of the Western Australian Exclusive Economic Zone and the wider east Indian Ocean through proactive data collection during expeditions and ships of opportunity. The aim is to share the bathymetric data with national and international bathymetric mapping programs.
We aim to establish sustained abyssal observatories to act as a precursor to future long-term monitoring initiatives at abyssal depths. These are to examine deep-sea seasonality, long-term trends and community dynamics under ever changing climatic conditions.
The first expedition, to the Wallaby-Zenith Fracture Zone, was on board the DSSV Pressure Drop, a customised research ship that carries a full ocean depth rated submersible — DSV Limiting Factor. This expedition was the first comprehensive survey of these deep east Indian Ocean features.
The team found new geological features, filmed undescribed species of fish and crustaceans, collected many specimens for phylogenetic work, and produced detailed bathymetry of two key geomorphic features in the eastern Indian Ocean.
They successfully explored and mapped the geology and ecology of several contrasting habitats including an extraordinary dense manganese nodule field, a 2000 m high vertical escarpment, and extinct undersea volcanoes.
The UWA Oceans Institute nurtures an ecosystem of over 200 cross-disciplinary researchers and educators to serve the needs of the ocean community of Western Australia, the Indian Ocean and the world.