Deep‐Ocean Ecosystems


The term ‘deep ocean’ typically describes any marine ecosystem located at depths higher than 500 m. This environment is characterised by an elevated hydrostatic pressure, an average temperature of 2–4 °C, the absence of sunlight and the scarce availability of organic food. Specific organisms are associated with the deepest areas, and pressure‐adapted animals as well as microorganisms inhabit these peculiar ecosystems. It is difficult to understand how we do not know much about deep sea compared to space environment, despite the fact that its distance from the ocean surface is relatively short. With no doubt, the deep‐sea biodiversity is still mostly unseen and important benefits to human health and industrial activities will be available in the future from more extensive studies on this fascinating environment.

Key Concepts:

  • The deep sea is the world's largest ecosystem.

  • The deep‐sea biodiversity is still mostly unseen.

  • The less diversity of animals with increasing depths is mainly due to the hydrostatic pressure, as well as to a larger competition for food coupled with a lower basal metabolism.

  • Further insights into the natural traits of deep‐sea will lead to important benefits to human health and industrial applications.

  • Despite the fact that the distance of deep‐sea from the ocean surface is much shorter than that between Earth and space, the abyssal environment is far to be well known.

Keywords: deep‐sea ecosystems; biodiversity; taxonomy; biotechnology; technologies

Figure 1.

The distribution of deep‐sea regions with depths higher than 3000–4000 m throughout the world. Modified after Herring (). © Barker.

Figure 2.

The manned submersible Alvin built in 1964 and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Figure 3.

The ROV KAIKO operated by JAMSTEC and by which it was possible to sample the bottom of the Mariana Trench for the first time.

Figure 4.

The deep‐bath system by which microorganisms can be cultivated up to 65 MPa and at temperatures more than 100 °C.

Figure 5.

Shrimps and crabs observed around hydrothermal vent emissions at 1100 m depth.

Figure 6.

Samples of Calyptogena magnifica collected at the Okinawa Trough (Japan).



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Further Reading

Earle S and Giddings A (1980) Exploring the Deep Frontier: The Adventure of Man in the Sea. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.

Ernst WG and Morin JG (1982) The Environment of the Deep‐Sea. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice‐Hall.

Kennish MJ (1994) Practical Handbook of Marine Science. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Prager EJ and Earle SA (2000) The Oceans. New York: McGraw‐Hill.

Rowe GT and Pariente V (1992) Deep‐Sea Food Chains and the Global Carbon Cycle. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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Canganella, Francesco, and Kato, Chiaki(Jan 2014) Deep‐Ocean Ecosystems. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003192.pub2]