Ocean Twilight Zone


New Eyes in the Twilight Zone

Members of WHOI’s Ocean Twilight Zone team, particularly the lab led by marine biologist Annette Govindarajan, are pioneering the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling and analysis to provide a more finely tuned picture of what lives deep beneath the surface of the ocean.

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Top of Mind with Julie Rose

BYU Radio

Associate Scientist Joel Llopiz describes the vast, virtually unexplored ecosystem lurking beneath the surface of the ocean known as the twilight zone. It is deep enough that it hasn’t really been affected by humans yet. But commercial fishing companies are eyeing it now, so scientists who study the Twilight Zone are urging the UN to establish some rules for it soon. (segment begins at 23:08)

Why we must protect the ocean’s ‘twilight zone’

Mother Nature Network

The twilight zone can be found 200 to 1,000 meters (about 650 to 3,300 feet) below the ocean surface, at the point where the sun’s rays can no longer reach, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Massachusetts. Because it’s so deep and there’s no sunlight, it’s cold and dark.

Minion robots in the Ocean Twilight Zone

Phytoplankton use sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow, forming the base of the ocean food web. Phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton, which are eaten by other animals. Dead zooplankton and other particles become marine snow drifting in the ocean, but how much marine snow sinks below the sun-lit ocean surface? Scientists are developing a new device
that will follow marine snow into the ocean’s twilight zone.

The MINION is a small (2 Liters) inexpensive instrument. It is equipped with… cameras, seawater sensors, acoustic recorder, ballast weight. Once deployed, MINION will sink to the twilight zone and drift with currents.

Cameras on the side record the rate and quantity of particles falling through the ocean. Falling particles also accumulate on a clear glass panel. A camera on top will record the particle type and accumulation rate.

Similar images have revealed the twilight zone is a perpetual snowstorm, of organic debris. Particles such as this fecal pellet from a jellyfish-like salp are extremely carbon-rich. Pellets like this will sink quickly to deeper waters, or even become buried in the seafloor. Any marine snow that reaches the deep ocean means less carbon in the atmosphere.

The MINION is designed to listen for underwater sound sources. This will determine their location as they drift.

After a MINION has finished its mission, it will release weight and float to the surface. At the surface, it sends a homing signal so it can be recovered. The next generation of MINION will send compressed data-sets via satellite. Allowing them to be deployed by the dozens. Data from MINIONS will help scientists learn more about the ocean’s role in Earth’s climate system.

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Creatures of the Ocean Twilight Zone

The ocean twilight zone is home to innumerable mysterious creatures. Most of them are very small. Some glow in the dark. Others are just plain bizarre. They all play an important role in maintaining the health of this complex ecosystem. An ecosystem we are only beginning to understand.

This was part of a mission in spring of 2019 where several members of the OTZ Project team conducted an expedition aboard OceanX’s research vessel, the M/V Alucia, out of the Bahamas. The main goal of the expedition was to examine how the OTZ project site off the coast of New England differs from this distant –yet connected– region of the twilight zone. The team worked closely with OceanX to share their journey through video diaries and photographs of the extraordinary creatures brought on board throughout the cruise. The Ocean Twilight Zone is supported by the Audacious Project, a collaborative endeavor, housed at TED, to surface and fund ideas with the potential to create change at thrilling scale.

Video by Erik Olsen

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What’s it like in a submersible?

It is hard to describe what it’s like to physically travel down to the twilight zone. Both Heidi Sosik, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Ocean Twilight Zone (OTZ) project lead and Joel Llopiz, Associate Scientist, and OTZ lead of the life histories and behavior theme went down in a submersible for the first time to experience the twilight zone. They were able to able to observe beautiful jellies and small fishes like bristlemouths, hatchetfish, and lanternfish, all in their natural habitat.

This was part of a mission in spring of 2019 where several members of the OTZ Project team conducted an expedition aboard OceanX’s research vessel, the M/V Alucia, out of the Bahamas. The main goal of the expedition was to examine how the OTZ project site off the coast of New England differs from this distant –yet connected– region of the twilight zone. The team worked closely with OceanX to share their journey through video diaries and photographs of the extraordinary creatures brought on board throughout the cruise. The Ocean Twilight Zone is supported the Audacious Project, a collaborative endeavor, housed at TED, to surface and fund ideas with the potential to create change at thrilling scale.

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What is the story behind Mesobot?

Mesobot is designed to let scientists observe the twilight zone by autonomously tracking individual animals for hours or even days without disturbing the environment or disrupting their behavior, making it possible to follow individual animals as they take part in the great migration from the twilight zone to the surface and back each day. Mesobot is also equipped with samplers that will allow it to capture traces of environmental DNA (eDNA) from seawater while on a dive. The engineering team held their first successful at-sea test in June of 2019.

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Discovering the Ocean Twilight Zone with Joel Llopiz

Most life forms in the twilight zone are tiny—a few inches or less—but even the smallest twilight zone inhabitants are powerful through sheer number. Joel Llopiz, Associate Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is part of the Ocean Twilight Zone (OTZ) project. The project is embarking on a bold new journey to explore one of our planet’s hidden frontiers—the ocean twilight zone, a vast, globe-spanning, and dimly lit region between about 200 and 1,000 meters beneath the ocean’s surface. Understanding of the twilight zone is currently limited by its enormous size and lack of easy access.

Several members of the OTZ project team conducted an expedition aboard OceanX’s research vessel, the M/V Alucia, out of the Bahamas in spring of 2019. The main goal of the expedition was to examine how the OTZ project site off the coast of New England differs from this distant –yet connected– region of the twilight zone. Going to different areas is critical to help us understand how abundance and types of organisms change geographically. Even from onboard observations, it was clear that this area has far fewer organisms than off the more nutrient-rich waters of New England. The team worked closely with OceanX to share their journey through video diaries and photographs of the extraordinary creatures brought on board throughout the cruise.

The Ocean Twilight Zone is supported the Audacious Project, a collaborative endeavor, housed at TED, to surface and fund ideas with the potential to create change at thrilling scale.

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Entering the Ocean Twilight Zone with Heidi Sosik

It is hard to describe what it’s like to physically travel down to the twilight zone. In addition to extraordinary bioluminescence, Heidi Sosik, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Ocean Twilight Zone (OTZ) project lead, was able to observe beautiful jellies and small fishes like bristlemouths, hatchet fish, and lanternfish, all in their natural habitat.

Several members of the OTZ Project team conducted an expedition aboard OceanX’s research vessel, the M/V Alucia, out of the Bahamas in spring of 2019. The main goal of the expedition was to examine how the OTZ project site off the coast of New England differs from this distant –yet connected– region of the twilight zone. Scientists conducted net tows to collect animals at specific depths within the twilight zone and went down in a manned submersible to observe life there. They also collected water samples for environmental DNA analysis, a kind of forensic tool that allows scientists to sleuth out organisms the scientists weren’t able to physically catch. The team worked closely with OceanX to share their journey through video diaries and photographs of the extraordinary creatures brought on board throughout the cruise.

The Ocean Twilight Zone is supported the Audacious Project, a collaborative endeavor, housed at TED, to surface and fund ideas with the potential to create change at thrilling scale.

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Meet an Ocean Twilight Zone photographer

Fish ecologist, Paul Caiger explains how he brings together his passion for the Ocean Twilight Zone and photography to shed light on one of the least known regions on the planet. This was part of a mission in spring of 2019 where several members of the OTZ Project team conducted an expedition aboard OceanX’s research vessel, the M/V Alucia, out of the Bahamas. The main goal of the expedition was to examine how the OTZ project site off the coast of New England differs from this distant –yet connected– region of the twilight zone. The team worked closely with OceanX to share their journey through video diaries and photographs of the extraordinary creatures brought on board throughout the cruise. The Ocean Twilight Zone is supported by the Audacious Project, a collaborative endeavor, housed at TED, to surface and fund ideas with the potential to create change at thrilling scale.

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Researching the Twilight Zone

Meet WHOI technician, Helena McMonagle, and learn how research is conducted in the twilight zone using MOCNESS. This was part of a mission in spring of 2019 where several members of the OTZ Project team conducted an expedition aboard OceanX’s research vessel, the M/V Alucia, out of the Bahamas. The main goal of the expedition was to examine how the OTZ project site off the coast of New England differs from this distant –yet connected– region of the twilight zone. The team worked closely with OceanX to share their journey through video diaries and photographs of the extraordinary creatures brought on board throughout the cruise. The Ocean Twilight Zone is supported by the Audacious Project, a collaborative endeavor, housed at TED, to surface and fund ideas with the potential to create change at thrilling scale.

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Mesobot: Following life in the Twilight Zone

Mesobot is a brand new underwater vehicle designed to reveal what lives in the ocean’s twilight zone. Mesobot can follow animals as they move through the darkness and as they migrate from the depths to the surface and back. The twilight zone is vast and remote, but is threatened by unregulated fishing and climate change. We need Mesobot’s insights to understand and protect the twilight zone before humans change it forever.

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The UN should protect the ocean’s twilight zone

The Hill

Op-ed piece written by Mark Abbott, president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Chris Scholin, president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Monterey Bay: Following the DNA trail in the Pacific Ocean

The Mercury News

As ocean acidification and climate change become the new reality, scientists wonder what will happen to the distribution and well-being of plants and animals. “Monitoring communities and ecosystems is going to be much easier done by DNA methods,” says Elizabeth Andruszkiewicz Allan, an environmental engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic. “You take one water sample and look for everything from microbes to whales.”

Pelagic octopus

Argonauts like this pelagic octopus, found in the ocean twilight zone, are rarely found in the wild. Only the females…

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Film Director James Cameron on the Ocean Twilight Zone

USA Today

Today, the U.S. is a powerhouse of ocean science research and marine engineering, led by organizations such as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, among others. These are the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ames Research Center, and Goddard Space Flight Center of ocean exploration.

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Potato chips of the sea

Sometimes referred to as the potato chips of the sea, two pteropods (Diacria trispinosa) move through the Ocean Twilight Zone…

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Fish with Flashlights

Down in the dark and shadowy ocean twilight zone, countless species—bristlemouths, lanternfishes, jellies, and others—rely on bioluminescence for a variety of important functions, including finding their next meal, outsmarting predators, and looking for mates.

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