Scientists prepared Thursday to embark on an unprecedented, years-long mission to explore the Indian Ocean and document changes taking place beneath the waves that could affect billions of people in the surrounding region over the coming decades. The ambitious expedition will delve into one of the last major unexplored frontiers on the planet, a vast body of water that's already feeling the effects of global warming. Understanding the Indian Ocean's ecosystem is important not just for the species that live in it, but also for an estimated 2.5 billion people at home in the region—from East Africa to the Arabian peninsula to South and Southeast Asia, the AP reports.
The Ocean Zephyr is preparing to leave Bremerhaven, Germany, on the first leg of trip. Researchers will spend seven weeks surveying underwater life, map the sea floor, and drop sensors to depths of up to 6,560 feet in the seas around the Seychelles. The Nekton Mission, supported by over 40 organizations, will conduct further dives in other parts of the Indian Ocean over three years. The research will contribute to a summit on the state of the Indian Ocean planned for late 2021. Little is known about the watery world below depths of 100 feet, which scientists from Britain and the Seychelles will be exploring with two crewed submarines and a remotely operated submersible in March and April. Researchers expect to discover dozens of new species, from corals and sponges to larger creatures like types of dog-sharks. (Signs of a "lost continent" under the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius have been found.)
(Read more Indian Ocean