Despite the warming of the Arctic Ocean, vast areas are still covered with ice and hides an unknown world from scientific research. With the ice retreating, this world can be investigated and previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic open up and maybe reveal new life forms. A French expedition named “Under The Pole III” will try to fill this gap on a three-year expedition around the globe.

The expedition „Under The Pole III“ will explore the so-called “Twilight Zone” in the Arctic to find new life forms and investigate marine life. Credit: Lucas Santucci / Zeppelin Network
The expedition „Under The Pole III“ will explore the so-called “Twilight Zone” in the Arctic to find new life forms and investigate marine life. Credit: Lucas Santucci / Zeppelin Network

In the depths of the ocean, between 60 and 150 metres below the surface, lies a vast and mysterious zone that has so far remained mostly unexplored by scientists – a so-called "Twilight Zone". Working hand in hand with a team of experienced divers, researchers from around the world will now get a chance to study the elusive ecosystems that populate it, over the course of a three-year expedition known as Under The Pole III. Led by two passionate divers and explorers, Ghislain Bardout and Emmanuelle Périé-Bardout, the expedition is driven by a desire to improve current knowledge of the planet's oceans and of the species that lurk in their depths. The team is used to diving in extreme conditions, deep down in the freezing waters of the Arctic and Antarctic. With the help of innovative diving technologies, they aim to push back the boundaries of underwater exploration to advance scientific knowledge. One of the innovations they hope to test in the coming months is a small "living capsule" – a kind of underwater shelter that will allow divers to rest during a dive and to spend more time investigating the ecosystems of the Twilight Zone. From May 2017 to the end of 2020, Bardout, Périé-Bardout and their colleagues will take scientists aboard their boat to travel around the world, from the North Pole to the South Pole, to answer crucial scientific questions and to uncover hidden ecosystems.

Scientists will use the yacht as a base to explore the dimly lit depths of the Arctic Ocean. All equipment will be stored on board. Credit: Lucas Santucci / Zeppeling Network
Scientists will use the yacht as a base to explore the dimly lit depths of the Arctic Ocean. All equipment will be stored on board. Credit: Lucas Santucci / Zeppeling Network

Throughout their journey in some of the world's most remote seas, one of the most exciting projects that divers and scientists will undertake will be to investigate two intriguing phenomenon – the bioluminescence and natural fluorescence of marine species. Bioluminescence is a chemical process that involves the production and emission of light by a living organism. In contrast, natural fluorescence is a physical process, which happens when an organism naturally emits light, after it has absorbed light. Whether on land or in water, many animals appear to produce light or to become fluorescent under certain conditions. Some, like the glow-worm, have been well studied, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Very little is known about most of species, especially those living in the oceans. Exploring the Twilight Zone, especially in the Arctic, could potentially lead to the discovery of new, previously unseen species. "Recently, scientists have shown that there is bioluminescence in the Arctic, under the ice and deep below the surface of the sea. However, these ecosystems remain poorly documented. We know nearly nothing about potential bioluminescent species inhabiting the Twilight Zone", says scientist Marcel Koken, a bioluminescence specialist with the National Center for Scientific Research (France). "Working with Under The Pole, I am hopeful I will encounter news species that I will then be able to study more in depth in the lab and then describe in scientific journals." Koken hopes that he and the team will come across the elusive Greenland shark, to test whether the creature is bioluminescent.

Greenland sharks are the only cold-adapted shark species in the world. Also, they can live up to 400 years according to latest research results. Credit: imago/oceans-image
Greenland sharks are the only cold-adapted shark species in the world. Also, they can live up to 400 years according to latest research results. Credit: imago/oceans-image

Source: Lea Surugue, IBT / www.underthepole.com