The deep-sea environment

crinoidcoral_jc10The deep sea is an incredibly complex and varied environment.  Physical factors such as seafloor topography (the shape of the seafloor), ocean currents and sea-bottom type combine to create a range of different habitats. These habitats are also influenced by additional factors such as  water temperature, chemistry, sediment flux and food availability, to name but a few.

We now know that the deep sea is home to a huge diversity of life - the deep sea is as biodiverse as rainforests are on land.  Deep-sea ecosystems also provide goods and services that are vital for the health and well being of our planet.  However, we do not have much detailed knowledge about the deep sea. At a time when this fragile environment is coming under increasing pressure from exploitation of resources and the effects of climate change, it is important that we understand more about these ecosystems, their value to society, and how global change is affecting them.

Above: fauna in the Setubal canyon, offshore
Portugal.  Image courtesy NOCS.

What is a hotspot? 

Our research focused on deep-sea "hotspot" ecosystems.  Hotspot ecosystems support high species diversity, numbers of individuals, or both and so are important in maintaining margin-wide biodiversity and abundance. Examples of hotspots include submarine canyons, chemosynthetic environments, cold-water coral reefs, seamounts and the open slopes and basins in between.   These ecosystems can be found all over the world, including in the European deep sea.  

To find out more about the research we carried out in each of the hotspot ecosystems, please use the links in the right-hand menu.


Our objectives were:

  1. To investigate the dimensions, distribution and interconnection of deep-sea ecosystems;
  2. To understand changes in deep-sea ecosystems related to key factors including climate change, human impacts and the impact of large-scale episodic events;
  3. To understand the biological capacities and specific adaptations of deep-sea organisms, and investigate the importance of biodiversity in the functioning of deep-water ecosystems;
  4. To provide stakeholders and policymakers with scientific knowledge to support deep-sea governance aimed at the sustainable management of resources and the conservation of ecosystems.