Scientific objectives

As pointed out above, oceans exert a pervasive influence on the Earth’s environment and understanding their operating cycle and their interactions with biosphere and geosphere are key issues for the next few decades.

It is now clear that to answer many important questions in the Ocean and Earth sciences, a coordinated research effort of long-term investigations is required. Experiments and research programmes, from the 1980s to the present, reflect the progressive enhancement of monitoring systems in the ocean basins. During this time we have witnessed the achievement and strengthening of the concept of “deep sea observatories” and the technical evolution of earlier, quite simple, stand-alone mono-disciplinary instrumented modules into more complex multi-parameter platforms with extended lifetime and performance. Much of deep sea observatory research is interdisciplinary in nature and has the potential to greatly advance the relevant sciences.

Observatories networked at seafloor level will offer Earth and ocean scientists new opportunities to study multiple, interrelated processes over time scales ranging from seconds to decades. These include:

  1. episodic processes;
  2. processes with periods from weeks to several years;
  3. global and long-term processes.

Episodic processes include, for instance, eruptions at mid-ocean ridges and volcanic seamounts, deep-ocean convection at high latitudes, earthquakes, and biological, chemical and physical impacts of storm events. Second category includes processes like hydrothermal activity and biomass variability in vent communities. The establishment of an observatory network will be essential to investigate global processes, such as the dynamics of the oceanic lithosphere and the thermohaline circulation in the Ocean.

Such an increase in sampling capability will result in major advances across a range of scientific disciplines:

  • Global change and physical oceanography:
    • Deep water thermohaline ocean circulation,
    • Physical oceanography processes,
    • Upper ocean and climate change,
    • CO 2 budget.
  • Earth sciences, geohazards and seafloor interface:
    • Transfers from the Earth’s interior to the crust, hydrosphere and biosphere,
    • Earthquake hazards,
    • Tsunami hazards,
    • Slope instability and sediment failures,
    • Fluid flow and gas seepage through sediments and gas hydrates,
    • Sediment transfer to the deep sea and climate change.
  • The Marine Ecosystem:
    • Biogeography of European seas,
    • The temporal ecology of photosynthetically and chemosynthetically driven benthic ecosystems,
    • The dynamics of deep seafloor hydrothermal vents ecosystems,
    • Pelagic (upper ocean) ecosystems,
    • Coral reefs and Carbonate Mounds.
  • Non-Living resources:
    • Energy (renewable resources and hydrocarbons, including CO 2 sequestration),
    • Mining/deposition.

Scientific objectives in ESONET are currently updated in a dedicated task and periodically reported. More information can be requested to 


Gorgon coral on Lost City hydrothermal site - Exomar campaign (2005). © Ifremer