Consensus Report

Exploration of the Seas: Voyage into the Unknown (2003)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Each year, exiting, ocean-related discoveries are made; however, more research funding is available to scientists that revisit sites as opposed to individuals that want to explore poorly understood regions. A new program, where opportunities exist to investigate unexplored areas of the ocean, is needed to facilitate rapid discovery and implementation of previously unknown information. This report argues that a new large-scale, multidisciplinary ocean exploration program would increase the pace of discovery of new species, ecosystems, energy sources, seafloor features, pharmaceutical products, and artifacts, as well as improve understanding of the role oceans play in climate change. It recommends that such a program should be run by a nonfederal organization and should encourage international participation.

Key Messages

  • Access to standard and new technology, including commercially available equipment and technology that is not used for and by research institutions, is necessary for an ocean exploration program to succeed.
  • After exhaustive deliberation, the committee found that an ocean exploration program could be sponsored through NOPP, or through one of the two major supporters of civilian ocean research in the nation: NOAA or NSF.
  • Currently ocean science funding in the United States is predominantly awarded to research in specific disciplines, such as biological, physical or chemical oceanography. Proposals for interdisciplinary work are hampered by a funding bureaucracy that is also discipline-based. Ocean exploration is an integrative activity that will encourage and support interdisciplinary efforts that seek to discover new contributions to the marine sciences.
  • In a large scale, international ocean exploration program, capacity building can serve to enlist additional countries in the efforts, increase the resources (e.g., trained personnel) available for future work, and aid partner nations in good stewardship of our shared oceans.