The Mariana Trench sits nearly 11,000 meters (7 miles) below sea level in the Pacific Ocean, where very few large animals are found. It’s too cold and dark for most. However, new robotic technology is allowing researchers to explore the relatively barren environment, long thought too harsh for any life to exist at all.
For the past month, the HADES team has been plumbing the depths of the Western Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench from the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor. The team sent remotely operated vehicles down to depths ranging from 16,404 to 34,777 feet (5,000 to 10,600 meters), to characterize the ecosystems at different levels in what’s known as the ocean’s hadal zone.
“Many studies have rushed to the bottom of the trench, but from an ecological view, that is very limiting,” Drazen explained in the news release. “It’s like trying to understand a mountain ecosystem by only looking at its summit.”
The expedition team, led by University of Hawaii marine scientists Jeff Drazen and Patty Fryer, say the white translucent fish with winglike fins and an eel-like tail represents a previously unknown variety of deep-sea creature.
The expedition brought up supergiant amphipods from the 5,000-meter depth, as well as volcanic glass and other rock samples from the inner slope of the trench. The team said those samples were left behind by some of the earliest volcanic eruptions of the Mariana island arc, and should shed fresh light on the geology of the trench system.