The University of Western Australia and Minderoo Foundation have joined forces to establish a world leading deep-ocean research centre, to increase understanding about the deepest parts of the ocean through research at depths of six to 11km below the surface, known as the hadal zone.
The Minderoo UWA Deep-Sea Research Centre has been supported with a major five-year grant from Minderoo Foundation’s Flourishing Oceans initiative.
Our knowledge of the world’s oceans is strong along coastal areas, but we live in surprising ignorance of the deep sea – the largest habitat for life on earth.
This collaboration aims to comprehensively explore the deepest areas of the Indian Ocean – mapping the ocean floor, characterising and discovering new species, assessing marine biodiversity, charting deep-sea habitats and potentially finding new bio-products that, for example, could be used in new medicines.
The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest ocean spanning more than 70 million km2 and accounting for almost 20 per cent of the world’s ocean area. With an average depth of almost four kilometers, it is the least understood of the world’s five oceans and very little is known about marine fauna and species at its depths.
This partnership is a joint commitment to increase knowledge of the deep-sea in terms of biodiversity, ocean processes such as currents and circulation, and human impacts, including climate change.
Minderoo UWA Deep-Sea Research Centre will lead up to three expeditions per year to explore the deepest parts of the Indian Ocean and beyond.
The first expedition in April to June 2021, will explore the eastern Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia.
The expedition, which has been supported by Minderoo Foundation, will use the DSSV Pressure Drop, a customised research ship that carries a full ocean depth rated submersible – DSV Limiting Factor. The vessels have a world leading track record conducting oceanographic research into the deepest ocean trenches around the globe.
The expedition aims to explore, sample and map key topographical features of the eastern Indian Ocean at abyssal and hadal depths using the submersible and deep-sea landers, as well as high resolution swath bathymetry to map the sea floor. Currently, there are large swaths of unmapped seafloor, and little information about the biodiversity of species that live at these depths. This expedition will form the first comprehensive survey of the deep Indian Ocean.
Over the course of five years, potentially eight expeditions have been identified as priorities. Each expedition is envisaged to involve two to four week cruises and the deployment of a fleet of bespoke deep-sea lander vehicles.
Increase the seafloor mapping of the Western Australian Exclusive Economic Zone and the wider east Indian Ocean through proactive data collection during expeditions. The aim is to share the bathymetric data with national and international bathymetric mapping programs.
Establish the Perth Canyon Abyssal Observatory to act as a precursor to future long-term monitoring initiatives, possibly with cabled underwater observation and supported by the proposed establishment of a marine research station at Rottnest Island.
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.