Meet the Director


Timothy Shank

The Deep Ocean Exploration Institute (DOEI) at WHOI has played a key role in supporting scientists, engineers and students working on these research questions, fostering innovative cross-disciplinary research and developing unique technologies to explore, map and sample in the deep ocean and beneath the seafloor in earth’s crust and mantle.

In order to better serve the broad WHOI scientific and engineering/technical staff, it was decided in 2014 to transition DOEI into the Ocean Exploration Institute (OEI) so that interdisciplinary science linking geological, chemical and biological processes could be considered for the full depth spectrum of the global ocean - from shallow to deep.

The geological history of our planet is best revealed by studying the global ocean seafloor.  Understanding the geological, chemical and biological processes that form and alter the ocean crust, all of which influence the chemical composition of the ocean, are crucial goals of 21st century oceanographic science.  The technological and scientific challenges involved in unraveling these processes and their linkages in space and time are significant.

OEI supported WHOI staff and students through Institute themes and the Ocean Ridge Initiative (ORI), which encompasses a broad agenda of research focused on Earth's most continuous volcanic and tectonic lineament—the global mid-ocean ridge, the 50,000 mile-long undersea mountain chain where oceanic crust is generated.

Initially the ORI funded research on microbial and dynamic geological/geochemical processes and the nature of deep-sea fauna at oceanic spreading centers.  Technology and instrument development that facilitates such studies are an integral part of the ORI.

OEI's research themes expanded the breadth of the ORI by providing opportunities for high-risk/high-reward science that can lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of coupled dynamic processes in deep seafloor environments, from trenches to mid-ocean ridges to continental slopes.  OEI funding has focused on detailed geochemical studies pertaining to the role of the deep earth and ocean in global elemental cycles—especially the role of volatile elements in magmatic and volcanic systems, carbon sequestration in ocean floor strata and investigating what is perhaps the largest unknown ecosystem on this planet, the deep biosphere within the oceanic crust and the deep ocean.

Timothy Shank is a deep-sea biologist, associate scientist in the Biology Department and the Director of the Ocean Exploration Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  He is known for his research on the ecology and evolution of fauna in deep-ocean hydrothermal, seamount, canyon and deep trench systems.  He combines multiple molecular genetic approaches and ecological field studies to understand the conditions and adaptations that allow various species to migrate, evolve, and thrive in deep-sea habitats, including chemosynthetic, seamount and cold-water coral ecosystems.  He is internationally recognized for his research into the ecological and evolutionary factors that affect the temporal changes in benthic community structure and the evolution of diverse deep-sea species groups.  He has pioneered the use of telepresence technology for the advancement of ocean exploration and research.  He has conducted more than 58 scientific expeditionsin the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and has completed more than 50 dives in Alvin, and more than 100 dives with autonomous underwater and remotely-operated vehicles, including the first use of a hybrid ROV (Nereus) in the ocean’s deepest trenchesHe is the author or co-author of more than 100 scientific papers, and recently the award winning best-selling book “Discovering the Deep.  He has served on numerous scientific panels and national and international committees, leading to research, conservation and management guidelines for seamount and chemosynthetic ecosystems, oil spill response efforts, international initiatives, and setting international priorities for deep-ocean exploration and research.