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Project Overview

Innerspace Deep Sea Initiative

Innerspace Deep Sea Initiative

An Exploration of Survival at Life's Extremes

Earth’s deep ocean represents 95% of the ocean’s total volume, the largest and least explored of Earth’s biosphere. Less than 0.0001% of the deep ocean’s area has been scientifically investigated (Figure 1). Within this realm is found and array of habitats and ecosystems characterized by “extreme” conditions of high hydrostatic pressure, very low to very high temperatures, perpetual darkness, toxic biochemical habitats, severe nutrient restriction, and hypoxic or anoxic habitats devoid of oxygen. 

Marine organisms have evolved biochemical and physiological adaptations to thrive in these environmental extremes, many with long life spans of hundreds to thousands of years and with as many as 1.5 million deep sea species yet to be discovered (1, 2).

Global-scale biophysical processes driving nutrient and energy flux, ecosystem structure, and biodiversity also operate within abyssal ocean depths. An expanded and sustained scientific investigation of the deep sea and of life’s remarkable ability to thrive there is needed if we are to conserve this environment and realize potential benefits to society in the form of new medicines and the potential for survival in future planetary extremes (3).

To accelerate our scientific understanding of the deep ocean, the Innerspace Deep Sea Initiative is launching as a partnership between the Center for Life in Extreme Environments (CLEE) research institute located on the campus of Portland State University (PSU), and Global Oceans, a Connecticut-based 501(c)(3) operating foundation.

Innerspace will enable scientific investigations that span biological life across the macro to nano scale (Figure 2), across habitats from hydrothermal vents to frozen methane seeps and across life history stages from embryos to adults. 

Exploration of Deep Sea Micro Worlds:

An Integrative New Baseline Capacity

Innerspace will link institutions, scientists, engineers, technology partners, tech start-ups and incubators, corporate partners, and nonprofits with program initiatives – to originate, enable, and facilitate new approaches to microscopic and nanoscopic imaging together with precision bio-sampling in deep sea habitats, and for top-side molecular and genomic analyses. 

Access to deep sea habitats to 6,000-meters will be enabled by the Innerspace 6000 OEV vehicle and Innerspace 6000 TIA towed instrument array owned by Global Oceans, together with other vehicles and landers.

This transdisciplinary approach will cut across disciplinary silos and bring together fresh thinking about what is technologically possible for deep sea exploration at environmental extremes. Creating a new deep-sea capacity baseline of infrastructure and organization will enable exploration of a range of cross-cutting questions and applications about life’s ability to survive and thrive in extreme environments. 

Innerspace Working Groups will provide the research framework for these investigations and will shape the technologies that are developed, adapted, and deployed to enable this work.

The new baseline capacity of deep sea robotics, instruments, sensors, and sampling systems that Innerspace will generate is designed to be integrative - a multi-functional, modular “system of systems”. The project is designed to: 

I. Develop, aggregate, adapt, and deploy novel, modular deep sea technology across a range of extreme ocean environments and habitats.

II. Discover, document, preserve, and analyze new organisms to characterize biophysical drivers of novel adaptations and evolution in the deep ocean, including understudied early life history stages spent in deep sea habitats.

1. Danovaro, Roberto, et al. "The deep-sea under global change." Current Biology 27.11 (2017): R461-R465.

2. Ando, Nozomi, et al. "The molecular basis for life in extreme environments." Annual review of biophysics 50 (2021): 343-372.

3. Hurst, D., et al. "Marine biotechnology strategic research and innovation roadmap: insights to the future direction of European marine biotechnology." Marine Biotechnology ERA-NET (2016).

4. Rogers, A. D., et al. "Delving deeper: critical challenges for 21st century deep-sea research." Position paper 22 (2015): 224.

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