Dr Alan Jamieson from Newcastle University in the UK, didn’t set out to be a deep-sea biologist, an adventurer, or even a marine biologist.
In fact his undergraduate degree was in industrial design. However during his course he designed an underwater vehicle, which led him to the University of Aberdeen following graduation, and a deep sea research group.
There his expertise in designing technology for this kind of work prompted him to do a Masters, swiftly followed by a PhD.
“We were working on finding a way to capture fish at depth and measure their oxygen consumption.These are species that wouldn’t survive coming to the surface,” Alan said in a Newcastle University story.
“Videos and observations of fish behaviour proved more interesting than our original research and resulted in more publications.
"Once I completed my PhD, it was a case of 'where’s the deepest place in the ocean? Let’s go and look!' That involved building the first two ultra-deep cameras. We blagged our way onto Japanese and German research vessels.
“I found myself doing the marine biology as well as technical stuff.That’s how I ended up as a marine biologist. It wasn’t what I had expected to be doing when I embarked on my original degree.”
Alan, who is now a senior lecturer in marine ecology at Newcastle University and chief scientist on the Five Deeps Expedition, the first to attempt to reach the deepest point in each of the Earth’s five oceans: the Puerto Rico Trench in the Atlantic, South Sandwich Trench in the Southern Ocean, Java Trench in the Indian Ocean, Challenger Deep in the Pacific and Molloy Deep in the Arctic.
He and his colleagues now really do go where no marine biologist (or person for that matter!) have gone before, exploring the deepest ocean environments – known as the hadal zone– extending from approximately 6,000 meters to 11,000 meters below the sea surface.
This area does not extend along the ocean floor but exists only in the deepest ocean trenches. There is no light here so it is impossible for plants to grow
Because light does not reach this part of the ocean, it is impossible for plants to grow, but there are still resilient creatures that call these deep and dark trenches home.
“When I’m teaching, I always show students the Google Earth image of the Pacific Ocean. There is hardly any land there – Hawaii and small slivers of New Zealand,” Alan told Newcastle University.
"That’s half of our planet and most of that one body of water is about 4,000 metres deep. The deep ocean is the largest living space on Earth.
"We know so little about it, it's daunting to see how unexplored it is. But there are animals living there and they perform important ecological functions.
"Most of our efforts at good stewardship focus on the top 100 metres of water. But if we are to understand how it works, we have to build a better knowledge of the whole ecosystem."
Alan has designed multiple Hadal-Landers and has deployed them nearly 250 times in the ultra-deep subduction trenches of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding areas. He has participated in, and often led, 50 deep-sea expeditions covering every ocean.
He was lead author in a study published in the Royal Society Open Science Journal, which uncovered evidence that not only have plastics now reached the deepest chasms of our oceans but they are being ingested by the animals that live there.
Alan has published over 80 scientific papers and sole authored the book The Hadal Zone, life in the deepest oceans, in 2015. The highlights of his work include filming the deepest fish in the world multiple times, discovering supergiant amphipods in the Hadal Zone, having a Hadal species named after him and filming in the deepest places on Earth, the Sirena Deep and Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.
His work has featured in the BBC’s Blue Planet II, and NHK’s Deep Ocean, Descent into the Mariana Trench documentaries, and his discoveries have received extensive international media coverage.
He is a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and currently sits on the council of the Challenger Society for Marine Science.
Don’t miss hearing him talk about his many adventures and discoveries in some of the deepest parts of our planet, when he visits the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre on Friday 9 August, brought to you by the UWA Oceans Institute in partnership with the Minderoo Foundation.
Click here to register and for all the details.
PHOTO CREDIT: Special Project Six
Liz McGrath (UWA Oceans Institute) +61 8 433 795 509