WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION

Exploring the Hadal Zone, Earth’s final frontier

A grand challenge to explore the deepest ocean

The Hadal Zone is the deepest part of the ocean—from 20,000 to 36,000 feet. It is also the least explored place on Earth, something WHOI scientists and engineers are about to change.

There are more than 47 hadal regions comprised of trenches, troughs, and faults around the world that form an area of seafloor estimated to be more than half the size of Australia.

What we may learn

On a planet where more of us are connected every day, it seems impossible there could be places we know almost nothing about. Revealing secrets of the Hadal Zone will give us insight into the evolution of life, the function of systems that sustain life on Earth, and the limits of life here and elsewhere in the universe.

Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas.

Life

Life below 20,000 feet is vastly different than any other place on Earth. Adaptations to extreme pressure and food supply present opportunities to learn more about the evolution and connectivity of life and to develop new antibiotics and medical treatments.

WHOI Orpheus lander

Technology

Before we can explore ocean worlds beyond Earth, we have to explore our own ocean, and the tools we need are complex and highly specialized. Earth will be our test-bed for new technologies to reach the Hadal Zone and to eventually explore ocean worlds beyond our home planet.

Our Home

Life-support systems that make Earth habitable rely on every part of the ocean, even the Hadal Zone. It helps process nutrients and regulate the climate and serves as a laboratory for evolution to experiment with adaptations that allow life to thrive in harsh conditions.

Leading the Way

Exploration of one hadal region will not provide a comprehensive view of all that inhabits the deep. Each trench and trough is unique and will contain unexpected discoveries. Exploring these places will forever alter our perception of life’s diversity on Earth and capacity to inhabit the Universe. WHOI scientists and engineers are working together with NASA to build the tools and answer the questions that will form the basis for deeper insight into life wherever it may be.