Scientists Go Deep, Deeper, Deepest


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is undertaking an investigation of one of the most mysterious places on Earth: the Mariana Trench. (Christian Science Monitor)

Use our lesson plan to learn more about “Protecting the Mariana Trench.”

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Discussion Ideas
Read through our terrific activity “Protecting the Mariana Trench.” Adapt its questions to NOAA’s current expedition to the deepest place on Earth—that’s what we did here.


This map of the Western Pacific shows the locations of proposed exploratory mining sites. Map courtesy of ISA (International Seabed Authority)
This map of the Western Pacific shows the locations of proposed exploratory mining sites.
Map courtesy of ISA (International Seabed Authority)
Most methane deposits show up around continental shelves. Map by USGS
Most methane deposits show up around continental shelves.
Map by USGS


  • Why does NOAA think it is important to preserve the Mariana Trench and its resources?
    • The Mariana Trench is an ecosystem that has been impacted very little by human activity and provides a pristine research area for scientists.
    • In addition, exploration of the Mariana Trench could benefit humanity. “[T]he same adaptations that allow organisms to live in the Trench’s extreme conditions could also lead to breakthroughs in medicine and biotechnology. Rocks from the trench could lead to a better understanding of Earth’s plate tectonics, and the area’s frequent earthquakes and tsunamis. Additionally, scientists believe the trench’s mud volcanoes may have provided the perfect conditions for Earth’s first life to thrive.”


  • What is unique about the physical geography of the Mariana Trench? Read through this NOAA article for some help.
    • It contains the deepest known point in the ocean, the Challenger Deep.
    • The trench is home to the largest active mud volcanoes in the world, as well as regular lava volcanoes (which are still pretty awesome).
    • Fractures in the seabed leak nearly pure liquid carbon dioxide.
    • The trench marks one of the most active subduction zones in the world. (Subduction! Our favorite geologic activity.)
    • The entire trench is dotted with ocean vents, those weird and wonderful geologic features that jet superhot, toxic fluids into the freezing sea.


  • What is unique about the organisms that live in and around the Mariana Trench?
    • Some of the corals surrounding the Northern Mariana Islands thrive around island communities built on basalt rock. (This is unusual.)
    • It is one of the few areas where photosynthetic communities (in which organisms convert light energy to chemical energy) coexist with chemosynthetic communities (in which organisms convert some chemical compounds into organic nutrients).
    • Ocean trenches can be rich in biodiversity. For example:
      • At a trench’s deepest points, most animals, many related to sea stars or jellies, are made mostly of water and gelatinous material that cannot be crushed as easily as lungs or bones. Many of these creatures navigate the depths well enough to even make a vertical migration of more than 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) from the bottom of the trench—every day. Even the fish in deep trenches are gelatinous. The bodies of several species that dwell at the bottom of the Mariana Trench have been compared to tissue paper.
      • Many fish species have adapted to life in dark ocean trenches through use of bioluminescence, meaning they produce their own “living light” in order to attract prey, find a mate, or repel a predator.




Christian Science Monitor: NOAA looks for answers in the mysterious Mariana Trench

Nat Geo: Protecting the Mariana Trench activity

Nat Geo: What is an ocean trench?

NOAA Okeanos Explorer: 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas

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