Crustal Ocean Biosphere Research Accelerator

See the latest on the COBRA website

The mission of COBRA is to accelerate research on the structure, function, resilience, and ecosystem services of the crustal ocean biosphere – the rocky parts of the deep sea like seamounts, hydrothermal vents, and below the seafloor. The goal is to generate new knowledge and inform decision-making relating to emergent industrial uses of the deep ocean, such as deep-sea mining and subseafloor carbon sequestration, and to decrease the likelihood of serious harm to the deep sea while maintaining the broad benefits that society currently enjoys.

crustal ocean biosphere diagram

The Problem: The rapid development of industrial-scale tools for mining of deep seafloor mineral/crustal deposits has outpaced the scientific understanding of the environmental impacts of this activity, which could rival or exceed in scale the impacts of deep-sea fishing. Likewise, there is accelerating interest in carbon sequestration in oceanic crust as a strategy to mitigate climate change, but short- and long-term effects are poorly understood.

Challenge: We need to accelerate scientific understanding of deep-sea crustal ecosystems and their resilience to inform decision making, prevent serious harm, and provide benefit to society. However, we are hampered by limited deep-sea research and monitoring assets, a relatively small community of scientists focused on these questions, and data access issues.

Solution: We will create an international, virtual research coordination network that brings together diverse stakeholders from academia, government, resource management, industry, and policy-making to identify priority issues and coordinate efforts to address them while training future generations in inclusive ocean exploration, policy, research, and making data more accessible.

Opportunity: The U.S. National Science Foundation has committed $2M over 5 years to support COBRA under Grant Number 2114593. This multi-institutional effort is based at Bigelow Laboratory, building on the international reputation of its scientists in deep-sea research leadership.

photograph of octopuses on sea floor

What is COBRA funded to do?

  • Facilitate deep-sea research coordination through virtual workshops and planning meetings
  • Produce white papers summarizing state-of-knowledge and recommendations to inform decision-making about deep-sea mining, subseafloor carbon sequestration, and other emergent deep-sea industries
  • Train globally-distributed, early-career researchers in ocean exploration, science, and policy through innovative virtual expedition leadership training.
  • Support international research exchanges that promote team science collaboration, diversity, equity, and inclusivity
  • Provide a web portal that points to diverse data types deposited in appropriate, internationally accessible data repositories to promote data discovery and accelerate knowledge transfer and collaboration.

Who is involved in COBRA:

Leadership team:

Video introduction to COBRA

Beth Orcutt and Julie Huber present “The Crustal Ocean Biosphere Research Accelerator (COBRA) – New Horizons for Deep-Sea and Subsurface Research Connected to Societal Issues” at the C-DEBI Virtual Meeting Series on January 7, 2022.

Get Involved

COBRA officially launched October 1, 2021. Signup for our email newsletter to stay informed. Or email with questions.


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Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.