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Journey to the Tonga Trench

This student-led research cruise, running August 31-September 6, 2012,  is a rare opportunity for scientists to explore to the Tonga Trench in the South Pacific Ocean, the second deepest trench in the world.

Expedition Objectives

The main objective of this cruise is to explore, discover, and study the unknown world of the deep sea. In addition to scientists and students from Scripps, faculty and students from other universities will come together to learn about deep-ocean environments. Members of Scripps’ Bartlett Lab, Rouse Lab, Aluwihare LabBuckingham Lab, students, and volunteers will work as part of the same research team to better understand these unexplored environments.

In more scientific terms the purpose of this cruise is to explore the ecosystem associated with the extreme conditions found in the Tonga Trench from a microbiological perspective. This study will provide a better understanding on how microbial communities in the deep ocean are assembled and how environmental factors affect their function and their metabolic capabilities.

In general major expedition objectives are to understand the composition of the microbial community of the Tonga Trench and how it is affected by pressure and other environmental conditions.

Deep Sea Exploration and Instrumentation

Deep-sea science is limited by the remoteness of study sites and the time, expense, and availability of robust tools to perform the needed measurements and samplings. In order to make abyssal environments more accessible, Scripps researchers aboard the Tonga Trench Expedition will take advantage of new developments in ocean engineering and our recent experiences using untethered free-falling vehicles called ‘landers.’

A century ago, the deep sea was imagined as a mysterious, barren, and lifeless abyss. Dark, cold, and with extreme high pressure. During the last half-century, ocean exploration and new technologies have upended those mistaken assumptions. Scientic investigations, many led by marine researchers at Scripps, have changed our understanding of the deep sea from an environment of quiet desolation to one of vibrant biodiversity featuring a dynamic mix of exotic marine life.

Today, Scripps scientists continue to lead the advancement of technologies to reach, view, and examine the deepest parts of our water planet. Using sophisticated unmanned tools, Scripps scientists probe the deep and come away with surprising results, results that are transformational in helping us understand the planet like never before. Even so, questions remain. What else might be found, and how will it benet humankind?

UC Ship Funds Program

This cruise is made possible by UC Ship Funds Program. Research training is a fundamental element of the Scripps mission, and our commitment to practical research training is exemplied by the UC Ship Funds Program. Made possible by support from the University of California and Scripps, this program provides more than $1 million per year to enable graduate and undergraduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and early-career faculty to pursue independent research and instruction at sea aboard Scripps ships. If you are interested in supporting Scripps students by making a contribution to the UC Ship Funds Program, please contact the Scripps Development office at or 858-822-1865.


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