First Descent begins unique exploration of Indian Ocean

Nekton submersible being transferred between the ocean and main vessel.

Inmarsat technology is enabling an ambitious marine science project to broadcast live from the deep ocean via deep space.

Nekton Deep Ocean Research Institute has launched First Descent to explore and conserve the Indian Ocean – the world’s most unknown and least protected ocean.

The three-year expedition, which started this month, combines innovations in technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and communications.

World firsts

The first seven-week long mission is based in the Seychelles, where First Descent’s mother ship the Ocean Zephyr is home to a team of scientists, submersible and remote operated vehicle (ROV) pilots, subsea engineers and journalists.

First Descent will achieve world firsts in communications. New subsea technologies for optical transmission have been developed by Teledyne Marine so that multiple submersibles can transmit in real time as they descend into previously unexplored deep ocean.

Using Fleet Xpress, Inmarsat’s high speed data satellite service, the reports will be broadcast to media outlets around the world and feature in a series of live programmes produced by Sky News and Sky Atlantic as part of Sky Ocean Rescue. Inmarsat partner Cobham SATCOM has provided Ocean Zephyr with a SAILOR 100 GX compact one-metre Ka-band terminal, with the back-up of FleetBroadband.

Video technologies

The team is deploying a raft of new cutting edge research, sampling, survey and video technologies from their state-of-the-art submersibles and ROVs.

New AI programmes have been developed by Nekton and the University of Oxford to accelerate analysis and publication. Mission data will be made available on OcToPUS – the Ocean Tool for Public Understanding and Science – the world’s first open-sourced global ocean data portal.

The mission’s research is focused from the surface into the biodiverse Bathyal Zone (200m to 3000m), most impacted by human activities.  At least 50 first descents are planned during the first expedition. Very little research has been undertaken beneath 30 metres (scuba depth) across Seychelles’ vast ocean territory of 1.37 million km2.

Ocean change

Dr Lucy Woodall, Nekton Principal Scientist at the University of Oxford, who is leading the research, said: “The biological communities we are researching are critical for many reasons from climate stability to food security, from carbon cycling to the air we breathe. Our multi-disciplinary research investigates biological systems and their physical and chemical environment enabling us to identify key parameters and patterns of ocean change.

“We expect to discover dozens of species new to science that could be anything from corals, algae or sponges to larger more charismatic animals like dog-sharks.”

For more information contact [email protected].