The deep sea, previously considered untouchably remote, is a
lot closer than many perceive.
Human-generated pollution, overfishing, and climate change are
having a direct impact on deep-sea environments and their
Levin has investigated a variety of bizarre creatures that have
adapted to extreme deep sea settings, from toxic methane seeps to
massive zones where oxygen levels are next to nothing.
One such zone exists off California at roughly 600 to
1,000 meters (2,000 to 3,200 feet) deep, part of a continuous zone
that spans from Alaska to central Chile. Because such zones occur naturally, Levin says they have become an
important comparative tool for studying human-produced "dead zones"
created by pollution and ocean warming. The animals living in
hypoxic zones employ a variety of strategies to make a living there,
including those with specialized gills or tentacles to extract what
little oxygen is available.
"The deep sea is not that far away in terms of our activities and
impact," said Levin noting an assortment of urban items from shoes to beer cans in the depths. Much remains to be studied and explored in the deep sea especially before humanity reaches down into the ocean depths and irreversibly changes what's there. "By not knowing what's down there, we run the risk
of destroying things before we've discovered them. Every time we make a
new discovery we learn more about how life works and how it
Karen Stocks is an assistant research scientist at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. Her interests include biodiversity informatics, marine biogeography and seamount ecology. Her main projects include: SeamountsOnline (seamounts.sdsc.edu), an online database of species distributions on seamounts; and the Global Census of Marine Life on Seamounts (CemSeam), an international research collaboration aimed at determining the role of seamounts in the biogeography, biodiversity, productivity, and evolution of marine organisms, and evaluating the effects of human exploitation on seamounts. Karen is a member of the CenSeam secretariat.