Global Deep-Sea Capacity
The 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment is a baseline assessment of the technical and human capacity for deep-sea exploration and research in every coastal area with deep ocean worldwide. This assessment includes online survey and/or manual research data for 186 geographical areas divided into six global regions: Europe, Asia, Northern America, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America & the Caribbean. The results demonstrate the unique regional and subregional challenges and opportunities facing deep-sea research and exploration in each location.
Exploration and research in the 93% of our planet's ocean that lies deeper than 200 m is typically conducted by only a handful of countries with the required financial and personnel resources. Just how many countries actually have the capacity to access and work in the deep ocean? This knowledge is essential to make deep-sea exploration and research more inclusive and equitable.
From 200 to nearly 11,000 meters below sea level, the deep sea encompasses the single largest—and arguably the most critical—biosphere on Earth. Globally, nearly 75% of all exclusive economic zones (EEZs) combined have water depths between 2,000 and 6,000 meters, making this a particularly critical depth range to access.
Many who consider deep-sea exploration & research important do not have deep-sea tools & technologies: Respondents for numerous subregions, particularly Micronesia, Melanesia, Western Africa, and Eastern Africa, felt that deep-sea exploration & research was considered important in their location but did not have access to the tools needed to do deep-sea work.
In many places, there is expertise but not technology: In every subregion, respondents indicated that the presence of in-country individuals with deep-sea expertise exceeded the availability of deep-sea tools. More access to vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools would activate available expertise to conduct locally-led deep-sea exploration and research.
More deep submergence vehicles are needed globally: Deep submergence vehicles were the technical capacity that had the lowest presence, access, and satisfaction worldwide. More access to lower-cost, easy-to-use technologies suitable for deep water would be transformative globally.
Non-research assets could be available for deep ocean research: While vessels were the technical capacity with the most extensive presence worldwide, in general, vessels were the technical capacity to which respondents had the second-lowest access. Unlocking access to additional vessels for use in research would be transformational.
Funding is the top challenge: Survey respondents identified funding as the single greatest challenge, followed by human capacity and knowledge, access to vessels, and access to deep submergence vehicles to undertake deep-sea research. Low-cost solutions are key to increasing access to the deep sea.
Prioritizing deep-sea exploration is essential: Many respondents felt that their countries did not consider deep-sea research and exploration important. Making stronger internal cases for why deep-sea exploration is critical in each location could be beneficial in securing support.
Tailored strategies are needed for each location: Better understanding the physical environment can help ensure the greatest return on investment. For example, in Central America, Melanesia, and Western Asia, 75% of all EEZs lie between 200 to 4,000 m, and all African EEZs are less than 6,000 m. Creating deep-ocean technologies and strategies tailored to each location would be more efficient than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Detailed research and inclusion matter: The results of this study were more nuanced than expected. The assessment documented previously underreported details, from the available human capacity to possible vessel access. The very act of including and reaching out to people in locations often under-resourced and overlooked in many global studies created a community and a sense of inclusion that made the effort and detail of this report and future studies of its kind valuable in many ways.
Everyone Has a Role to Play
Everyone from marine scientists to machine learning engineers to business leaders has a role to play in supporting global deep-sea research and exploration efforts. Whether coding new tools, training new/young deep-sea researchers, or leading an expedition, it will take many skills to achieve these goals. We invite you to learn more about the Ocean Discovery League’s current projects and join our efforts. We will also continue to monitor changes in deep-sea capacity over the UN Ocean Decade and beyond by conducting the second Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment in 2025-2026 and a third in 2029-2030.