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Welcome to a journey through the largest ecosystem on Earth, to a hidden realm of darkness, freezing cold and unimaginable pressure teeming with the most wondrous and diverse forms of life.


Welcome to the deep sea! CeDAMar (Census of the Diversity of Abyssal Marine Life) takes you down the slopes starting at the edge of the shelf to seemingly endless expanses of smooth ocean floor under about 4,000 to 5,000 metres of water: the abyssal plains, our study area. CeDAMar started to explore abyssal plains in 2000 and will continue to do so until 2010. At the moment, there are 56 institutions in 17 countries involved, and the number is growing.

in a ten-year initiative to assess and explain the divers

Big questions

There are two things that are of great interest to us:

1) How many species are there, and how are they distributed?

How big is the area that one species can inhabit, and what does that mean to our estimates of species richness in the oceans of the world? 2) How do new species evolve in an environment that to us seems homogeneous over thousands of kilometres? What else is important? Distance?

First answers

We are now past the midpoint of the project, and with knowledge gained through analysis of samples from more than ten cruises to the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Southern Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, we begin to see patterns in the distribution of abyssal animals and sometimes get a glimpse at their biology. We have collected hundreds of new species, and nearly 200 are already described and named. Identification and description of deep-sea organisms is so very important because in any sample taken at any spot of the deep sea, at least half of all animals have never been seen before by anybody. To this day our estimates of the number of species living in the deep sea vary greatly from 500,000 to 10 million. Such a wide range indicates that we really had no idea when CeDAMar started because we had to rely on a few football fields worth of sampled seafloor to make assumptions on about half of the Earth's surface.


Why do we know so little about the deep sea?

The most profound reason is probably that we can not see it. Stars have inspired not only scientists, but also ordinary people for millennia because on a clear night, they are displaying their beauty for everybody to see. To get close enough to the deep-sea floor to examine it is a very different matter.
 To imagine just how far away the deep-sea floor is from the surface where we can move around on ships, it helps to think about how long it takes to walk four or five kilometres (or two to three miles)- probably about an hour. But that is not the only distance to overcome.

Not only water depth needs to be negotiated when sampling abyssal plains, but also distance from land. Often it takes several days for a ship to get to a deep-sea research area. Ships have to be large enough to withstand bad weather on the high seas and hold enough crew and scientists for the challenging work on deck. Of course such ships are very expensive. For example, maintenance of a ship like the German icebreaker Polarstern costs about 60,000 Euros per day (!!). Time thus becomes the most precious commodity on board of a research vessel, and not every attempt to take a sample is successful. In the deep sea, eight or ten hours may pass before a scientist knows whether sampling has succeded or failed.

Joining forces across disciplines and across institutions and nations therefore seems the only sensible thing to do.


As the data generated by CeDAMar are intended to last for much longer than 2010, we had to decide on a catalogue of standardised sampling methods so that our colleagues and successors can use our data as a reference for decades to come. Many details have to be considered, all with the main goal in mind: to ensure that the animals not only withstand the long journey through the water column unharmed by the massive changes in pressure and temperature but also are separated from the sediment in which they live without destroying fragile appendages and other important characters (sometimes colour, for example) by which we recognise them.

CeDAMar and you

Why is the deep sea so important?

First of all, curiosity about the planet we live on is a deeply human quality. There is still so much to know.

But there are other reasons, too. We are just now exploring ways to use the deep sea as a resource, and we are trying not to repeat mistakes we made using shallow waters as a resource. Sustainable use and efficient protection of the resource “deep sea” requires knowledge about its life forms and the way they interact with their environment and each other.

What can CeDAMar do for you?
CeDAMar is one of several projects promoting international multidisciplinary collaboration of the best scientists we have to get the maximum out of costly and challenging expeditions which usually are paid for by people like you- through tax money or private foundations.

This effort has as a major component an education and outreach programme, including this homepage. Here you can participate in our work regardless if you are one of the privileged scientists or not. We bring the exciting world of the deep sea to your living room. When CeDAMar expeditions are underway, you are able to follow us on the eXpeditions site through daily news releases from the ships while we are working.

Our hope is that we not only keep you informed, but also inspire some of you to consider a career in deep-sea biology, especially in the area of taxonomy and sytematics, which is the art of identifying organisms to species, describing new ones and determining how they might be related to each other.

CeDAMar is a field project of Census of Marine Life
The Census of Marine Life is a growing global network of researchers in more than 70 nations engaged in a ten-year initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life in the oceans -- past, present, and future.

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