Work & Impact

Combining science, innovative technology, and broad engagement to turn knowledge into action

We have embarked on a bold new journey to explore one of our planet’s hidden frontiers—the ocean twilight zone, a vast, globe-spanning, and dimly lit region between about 200 and 1,000 meters beneath the ocean’s surface. Understanding of the twilight zone is currently limited by its enormous size and lack of easy access. Our goal is to address critical gaps in knowledge, including the distribution of biomass and biodiversity, food web linkages within the twilight zone and among the twilight zone and other ocean realms, the life histories and behaviors of twilight zone animals, and the role of the twilight zone and its inhabitants in the global carbon cycle.

Our project will create, expand, and take advantage of new technologies to explore the ocean twilight zone and re-imagine its commercial use. We will enable an open data platform that will bring science, technology, and society together in an interactive environment to accelerate understanding of the twilight zone for use in science-based policies that take into consideration conservation, equitable use, and maintenance of ecosystem services. Ultimately, we aim to achieve much more than scientific discovery—we will foster more informed ocean stewardship and sustainable human interactions with the ocean and our planet.

Our Work.

Our exploration of the twilight zone will achieve much more than scientific discovery.

Advancing science

From biology to climate change, we search for evidence-based truth

Informing Policy

Conservation, equitable use, and maintenance of ecosystem services

Innovative technology

We are providing unprecedented access to once inaccessible places

Public awareness

Informing sustainable human interactions with the ocean and our planet

Our impacts so far

The Ocean Twilight Zone project has formed a core, multi-disciplinary team of 12 scientists and created a firm foundation and infrastructure for future research; developed a growing arsenal of tools and techniques to understand the twilight zone; and dramatically improved awareness of this vast ecosystem’s importance within international policy making groups. 

The team’s continued success is due in part to its powerful suite of sampling and analysis methods. It employs a wide range of different but complementary techniques, empowering the team to fill in gaps and shortcomings with higher confidence than any single method could produce. This approach leads to a bigger, more detailed view of the twilight zone than ever before possible, and enables researchers to unravel the mysteries of the zone at a faster pace.

  • Calculated a more accurate estimate of twilight zone biomass. 
  • Discovered two different but connected food webs at surface and at depth. 
  • Collaborated on a new, more nuanced estimate of carbon transport in the twilight zone. 
  • Published or drafted more than a dozen papers in high-profile academic journals. 
  • Joined forces with leaders of large international research efforts to create JETZON to coordinate global research and share data. 
  • Designed new machine learning and processing techniques to analyze data autonomously. 
  • Developed new eDNA methods to identify species that net tows may miss.
  • Completed the first sea trial of Mesobot last summer with a successful scientific mission later that year. 
  • Gained critical insight on abundance and distribution of OTZ creatures from the first scientific mission of Deep-See. 
  • Developed and deployed a new high-volume eDNA sampler. 
  • Developed and deployed a new low-cost sensor for measuring carbon transport.
  • Created the first quantitative assessment of twilight zone ecosystem services. 
  • Worked to inform major intergovernmental initiatives on the importance of the twilight zone, including the negotiations for a new treaty on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) and UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
  • Earned 2.8 million impressions through new social marketing campaigns. 
  • Placed op-eds in prominent media outlets with a reach of over 70 million to highlight the importance of understanding and protecting the twilight zone. 
  • Increased our engagement beyond existing WHOI audiences through partnerships with 4Oceans, OceanX, the Ocean Alliance, and other organizations.

Twilight Zone Explorers

The OTZ project has gathered marine biologists, policy researchers, engineers, and engagement experts to investigate this little-known but important zone.