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Global Summary

High-level findings on the deep-sea capacity of 186 geographical areas, divided into six global regions: Europe, Asia, Northern America, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America & the Caribbean.

Published onSep 12, 2022
Global Summary
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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 information for 186 GeoAreas divided into six global regions: Europe, Asia, Northern America, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America & the Caribbean (Figure 1) [1]. “GeoArea” includes sovereign countries and dependent territories.

Figure 1

Global Regions
Map of the world showing the six regions used in the 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment: Europe (purple), Asia (orange), Northern America (blue), Africa (yellow), Oceania (red), and Latin America & the Caribbean (green). Light shades of each color indicate the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of each region. [1][2][3][4]


These data were collected through both an online survey and manual research. We assessed the presence of organizational infrastructure, vessels, deep submergence vehicles (DSVs), sensors, and data tools in each GeoArea using the research results and survey responses to determine accessibility to and satisfaction with deep-sea technology available to them. We also asked survey respondents whether deep-sea exploration and research was considered important in their GeoArea and what they thought were the biggest issues, challenges, and opportunities concerning deep-sea exploration and research.

Of the 360 responses for 124 GeoAreas, 62% were for low-income, middle-income, and economically unclassified GeoAreas. Seventy-three responses were for 33 Small Island Developing States (SIDS), representing more than half of all SIDS globally. Respondents represented a range of demographics and professional roles, with men comprising about two-thirds; nearly three-quarters of respondents had advanced degrees, and approximately three-quarters worked in academia or government. 

While many of the findings in this assessment were not, on the surface, surprising, the results were more nuanced than expected. We documented previously underreported details, from the available human capacity to possible vessel access. We also received feedback that the very act of including and contacting countries often overlooked in many global studies created a community and a sense of inclusion that makes the effort and detail of this report valuable in many ways.

Detailed results on the deep-sea capacity of 186 geographical areas divided into six global regions can be found in Global Results.

"We [don't] have access to such technology, if we could acquire it from some aid or project it would be transformative!" --Respondent for Eritrea, Eastern Africa


The Global Deep Ocean

From 200 to nearly 11,000 meters below sea level (mbsl), the deep sea encompasses the single largest—and arguably the most critical—biosphere on Earth. Of the 216 GeoAreas that claim marine exclusive economic zones (EEZs), 198 have more than 1% deep ocean within their jurisdiction. The deep area of these 198 EEZs encompasses approximately 113,192,000 km2, or 82% of the total EEZ area worldwide. Globally, nearly two-thirds of all EEZs combined are comprised of water depths between 2,000 and 6,000 mbsl, making this a particularly critical depth range to access [2][3][4].

Status of Deep-Sea Exploration & Research

Survey respondents were asked to assess the status of deep-sea exploration and research in their GeoArea by stating to what extent they agreed with the following statements: (1) deep-sea exploration and research are considered important in their GeoArea, (2) they have in-country deep-sea technology, and (3) they have in-country deep-sea expertise. 

Globally, 52% of respondents agreed that exploration and research were considered important in their GeoArea. Only 33% of respondents agreed that they had the in-country technology to conduct deep-sea exploration and research, and half agreed that they had in-country deep-sea expertise.

These respondent-assessed reports of in-country importance, technology, and expertise were also used to evaluate respondents’ perceptions of the importance of and existence of in-country resources for deep-sea exploration and research at the subregional level (Table 1). In every subregion, the in-country expertise rating was equal to or higher than the in-country tools and technology rating.

Table 1

Importance

Tech

Expertise

Subregions

High

High

High

Northern Europe, Western Europe, Eastern Asia

Low

High

High

Northern America, Australia & New Zealand

Low

Low

Mid

Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, Western Asia, Northern Africa, South America

High

Low

Mid

Southeastern Asia, Western Africa

High

Low

Low

Southern Asia, Eastern Africa, Melanesia, Micronesia

Low

Low

Low

Middle Africa, Southern Africa, Polynesia, Central America, Caribbean

On one end of the spectrum, respondents for Northern Europe, Western Europe, and Eastern Asia agreed the most that deep-sea exploration and research was considered important in their GeoArea, and they had in-country deep-sea technology and expertise. On the other end, respondents for Middle Africa, Southern Africa, Polynesia, Central America, and the Caribbean agreed the least that deep-sea exploration and research was considered important in their GeoArea and that they had in-country deep-sea technology and expertise.

Of note are two particular groups of subregions. Respondents for Northern America and Australia & New Zealand agreed there were high levels of in-country technology and expertise but thought deep-sea exploration and research was not considered important. Conversely, respondents for subregions Melanesia, Micronesia, Eastern Africa, and Southern Asia agreed that deep-sea exploration was considered important but did not agree that in-country tools and expertise existed.

"Having the technology is important but even more important is building capacity and long term technical training for staff to be able to use these tools not just to have them." --Respondent for Iraq, Western Asia


Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities

Respondents’ feedback was requested on the most important issues in their GeoArea, the top challenges they faced regarding deep-sea exploration and research, and the opportunities they were most excited about in the next five to ten years.

Survey results revealed that conservation & protection, basic science & exploration, and fisheries & aquaculture were among the three most important issues in all regions. In addition, climate change was noted as an important issue in Oceania and Northern America, offshore oil and gas was an important issue in Africa and Asia, and seabed mining was an important issue in Oceania.

The top challenge across the globe—without question—was funding. In Europe and Northern America, access to vessels was the second biggest challenge, followed by access to deep submergence vehicles (DSVs). In Asia and Latin America & the Caribbean, access to vessels and human capacity were equally ranked as the second biggest challenge. In Africa and Oceania, human capacity was the second biggest challenge, followed by access to vessels in Africa and access to DSVs in Oceania. 

The top three global opportunities for deep-sea exploration and research were training opportunities, less expensive data collection technology, and better data access and analysis tools. Training opportunities were the top choice in Africa and Latin America & the Caribbean. Less expensive data collection was the highest-ranked opportunity in Europe, Asia, and Northern America. In Oceania, respondents were excited about better/more precise data collection technology. In Asia and Oceania, training opportunities were ranked a close second.

"Additional at sea opportunities for our youth would open jobs at diverse coastal institutions that currently do not engage in oceanographic and deep sea research or education." --Respondent for Mexico, Central America


Deep-Sea Capacity Presence, Accessibility, and Satisfaction

The next part of the assessment recorded the presence of marine organizations, industries, and deep-sea technology—vessels, deep submergence vehicles (DSVs), sensors, and data tools—based on extensive research, survey respondents’ access to each type of technology, and respondents’ satisfaction with the technology to which they have access. One of the key findings throughout the report was the disparity between the in-country presence of a technology and an individual’s access to that technology. This formed a global assessment of the relative ability of regions to conduct deep-sea exploration and research.

Organizations & Industries

Using manual research and survey data, we assessed marine organizations and industries as a proxy for human capacity1

First, we considered the presence of different types of organizations, including universities, research laboratories, government agencies and ministries, and other organizations. We identified 2,136 deep-sea and marine organizations globally; 809 were universities and research laboratories, 812 were government agencies and ministries, and 515 were other organizations. Northern America had the highest number of organizations per GeoArea, followed by Europe. Latin America & the Caribbean had the lowest. 

We then researched whether or not ten types of marine industries were present in each GeoArea, and independently asked survey respondents which of these industries they were aware were present. Marine transportation, fisheries & aquaculture, and tourism were found to be present in the most GeoAreas worldwide. Our research revealed that deep-sea mining was in the early development stage in many regions but was the least currently active industry. However, survey respondents frequently over-identified it as an industry in their region, suggesting the attention explicitly paid to deep-sea mining is elevating it as a local issue.

Vessels

While vessels had the most extensive presence worldwide, respondents had the second-lowest access to them compared to other technical capacities. 

Fishing vessels were the most present type of vessel, followed by recreational vessels. Cruise ships and research vessels were the two types of vessels least present in all regions. The most accessible vessels globally were research vessels, followed by fishing vessels; however, more than a quarter of respondents worldwide reported having no access to vessels.

Several respondents provided feedback about other types of vessels available to them that were not listed in the survey, including cargo ships, tug boats, oil tankers, diving, drilling, and cable-laying vessels. New strategies for using non-research vessels for research purposes could open up significant opportunities for sensor deployment and data gathering.

Deep Submergence Vehicles

Deep submergence vehicles (DSVs) were the technical capacity with the lowest presence, access, and satisfaction worldwide. 

Sixty-five percent of respondents globally considered DSVs important for their work. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were the most present DSVs globally, followed by autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and benthic landers. Towsleds were the least present type of DSV found across regions. The most accessible DSVs were ROVs, followed by AUVs and benthic landers. Just under half of respondents globally reported having no access to DSVs. 

Sixty-five percent of DSVs to which respondents had access could operate deeper than 200 m. However, half of the DSVs available to respondents for Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America & the Caribbean could not operate deeper than 200 m. In contrast, in Northern America, 44% of reported DSVs could operate deeper than 4,000 m. 

Respondents globally were generally dissatisfied with available DSVs. Respondents in Europe and Northern America were the most satisfied with DSVs in their GeoArea. Respondents in Asia, Africa, Oceania, Latin America & the Caribbean were the least satisfied with the DSVs available to them. Seventy-one percent of respondents reported that increased access to DSVs would have a high impact or be transformative for their work. 

Sensors

Sensors had a limited presence worldwide. Yet, sensor systems were the technical capacity to which respondents had the second-highest level of access and the highest general satisfaction.

Over seventy percent of respondents considered deep-sea sensing systems important for their work. Water sampling systems were the most common type of sensor found globally, followed by navigation systems. Genetic sensors for environmental DNA (eDNA) were the least present type.

The most accessible sensor systems were CTDs and water sampling systems, followed by chemical sensors (e.g., O2, pH, eH). One-quarter of respondents reported having no access to deep-sea sensors. Over 70% of respondents globally reported that increased access to deep-sea sensor systems would significantly impact or be transformative for their work. 

Data Tools

Data tools were the second most present technical capacity worldwide. Additionally, respondents had the highest access to data tools, though the types of data tools to which respondents had access varied widely. While presence and access to data tools were generally high, respondents were the least satisfied with these tools. 

Eighty-eight percent of respondents globally reported that data tools were important for their work. Geographic information systems (GIS) was the most present data tool, followed by cloud computing and data management. Genomic sequencing tools were the least present.

The most accessible systems were GIS, data management tools, and data storage capacity. Less than 20% of respondents globally reported having no access to any of the listed data tools. Over 75% of respondents globally reported that increased access to data tools would greatly impact or be transformative for their work. 

"Less costly and more accessible vessels/tools would allow more scientists and stakeholders to be involved in the development and transfer of knowledge, especially on coastal deep-sea seafloor habitats and their vulnerability." --Respondent for France, Western Europe


Deep-Sea Capacity Indices

Organizations, industries, vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools were assessed using research to identify the presence of capacity in each GeoArea and survey responses to identify accessibility to and satisfaction of vessels, DSVs, sensors, and data tools in each subregion. We used this information to group subregions based on similarities concerning the presence of marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology, access to technology, and satisfaction with the technology available, allowing for comparison between locations on a subregional, regional, and global scale (Table 2).

Table 2

Presence

Access

Satisfaction

Subregions

Mid-high

High

High

Northern Europe, Northern America

Mid

Mid

Mid

Western Europe, Southern Europe, Eastern Asia, Southeastern Asia, Australia & New Zealand

Mid

Low-mid

Low-mid

Eastern Europe, Western Asia, Southern Asia, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, South America

Low

Low

Low-mid

Western Africa, Middle Africa, Eastern Africa, Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, Central America, Caribbean


Northern America and Europe had the highest combination of presence, accessibility to, and satisfaction with, marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology. Asia’s subregions were split, demonstrating a high variation in the presence of, access to, and satisfaction with marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology across the region. Oceania’s subregions also indicated significant variation with overall low presence, access to, and satisfaction with marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology across the region. Subregions in Africa and Latin America & the Caribbean had the lowest presence, access to, and satisfaction with marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology.

"We have basic bathymetry estimates for Palau's EEZ - but require multibeam sonar and backscatter data to provide info on habitats within the EEZ, provide a baseline of current habitats and enable us to identify important conservation areas and areas to focus future exploration on." --Respondent for Palau, Micronesia


Conclusion

This assessment demonstrated the unique regional challenges and opportunities facing deep-sea research and exploration. 

Northern America has the most extensive deep-ocean exploration and research capacity in the Americas. However, Latin America & the Caribbean have well-developed human capacity with a high potential for leading innovation in deep-sea research that a more substantial research infrastructure could enhance. For example, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Chile are working on developing DSV prototypes, which are in the preliminary stages of commercialization.

While Asia has higher access to vessels and DSVs than other regions, this access remains concentrated in the more affluent Asian nations and is less likely to be available in lower-income countries. Lower-cost access to DSVs, sensors, and data tools would have a transformative impact on Asia, particularly in low-income and middle-income GeoAreas.

Respondents for Africa selected training opportunities as the top deep-sea opportunity in the near future; in-country skills development should therefore be prioritized and funded. In addition, deep-sea technology that can reach only 6,000 m would unlock access to 100% of African EEZs, presenting a unique opportunity to expand accessible deep-sea research and exploration tools and programs in this region.

This capacity assessment indicates that many European research institutions have the technology and human capacity for deep-sea exploration and research. Generally, the presence of, access to, and satisfaction with deep-sea research and exploration capacity was high throughout the region. Because of their high level of deep-sea capacity, European countries could play a significant role in facilitating broader access worldwide. 

Oceania presents one of the most significant opportunities for deep-sea exploration and research. It has the largest deep-ocean EEZ area in the world and has the least capacity to explore it through local marine infrastructure and deep-sea technology. Local interest is high, as respondents from Oceania agreed far more than other regions that deep-sea exploration was considered important by those in their country. All respondents for Polynesia indicated that deep-sea mining is one of the most important issues they face and that they do not have in-country deep-sea tools or expertise to address it. Ensuring this region has the ability to explore, understand, and manage deep-sea environments is a critical path forward.

Insights provided by this assessment could assist with strategically developing, equitably implementing, and quantitatively measuring the impact of capacity development for deep-sea exploration and research over the coming years. 

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