EXPLORING THE LAST FRONTIERParis - There may be more species in the deep sea than in all other environments combined, but only about 0.0001 percent of life there has been investigated so far.
Just two decades ago US researchers found previously unknown forms of life surviving in extreme temperatures, without light, at depths of several thousand metres. The potential for medicine, food and industry is unimaginable. Meanwhile, researchers believe that vast deposits of frozen methane (gas hydrates) on the deep ocean floor could provide a solution to the planet's future energy needs.
From May 13 to 15, UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) will host a workshop on the feasibility of an international effort to explore this "last frontier": the oceans.
Sponsored by the US National Academies National Research Council's Ocean Studies Board, the International Global Ocean Exploration (IGOE) workshop will bring together a panel of experts from the world's most prestigious oceanographic research institutes, as well as government, industry, navies and intergovernmental organizations. This preliminary meeting will address questions highlighting different countries' interest in this kind of initiative, as well as the human and technical resources available.
This US-led initiative acts on a report to Congress last year on a US strategy for ocean exploration. It concluded that global exploration will need specialized equipment to penetrate extremely hostile environments, such as ocean trenches as deep as 11,000 metres, where there is no light and where pressures can be over 1000 times that of the Earth's atmosphere. Other equipment needed will include icebreakers, satellites andspecially equipped buoys.
No one nation can hope to respond to the challenges alone, while the international law of the sea gives nations sovereignty over their own coastal waters. International co-operation will be essential.
For further information contact:
Jodi Bachim, National Academies Ocean Studies Board
Tel: (1) 202 334-2628, Fax: (1) 202 334-2885