The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
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Dr Jonathan Copley BSc(Hons), MSc, PhD

Associate Professor in Ocean Exploration & Public Engagement

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Dr Jonathan Copley is Associate Professor in Ocean Exploration & Public Engagement (part-time) within Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton at the University of Southampton.

No human eye had glimpsed this part of the planet before us, this pitch-black country lighted only by the pale gleam of an occasional spiralling shrimp (Otis Barton, The World Beneath The Sea, 1953)

My research explores colonies of animals on the ocean floor, to understand patterns of life in the deep sea that covers most of our world.  By studying marine life in "island-like" habitats such as hydrothermal vents, my work examines interactions between ecology ("who does what"), biogeography ("who lives where"), and evolution ("who is related to whom") in the ocean depths.

I have more than twenty years of experience in exploring the deep ocean, including leading expeditions aboard research ships, using Human-Occupied Vehicles (HOVs) and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), and discovering new species of deep-sea animals.

In June 2013 I became the first British person to dive more than 5 km deep in the ocean, taking part in the first dive by a human-occupied vehicle to the world's deepest known hydrothermal vents. In December 2016 I also took part in the first dives by human-occupied vehicles to 1 km deep in the Antarctic, during filming of the BBC's Blue Planet 2 series.

As our everyday lives are connected to the deep ocean in ways we seldom realise, I work with documentary makers to share the exploration of the deep ocean with people worldwide, and routinely interact with news media to raise awareness of deep-sea issues and my team's discoveries.

I frequently talk about about exploring the deep ocean to public audiences ranging from local school and community groups to major events and festivals, and have created online resources for people to join in our voyages. This overall programme of public engagement with ocean exploration resulted in a successful "Impact Case Study" for REF2014.

As a "popular science" writer, I have also published more than 150 articles in magazines and newspapers such as The Guardian, Nature, and New Scientist (where I was a Reporter and Assistant News Editor).

Positions held

Since 2014: Scientific Associate of the Natural History Museum
2011-2012: National Geographic Explorer (recipient of Expeditions Fund Grant)
2010-2012: Co-Chair of InterRidge initiative for international cooperation in mid-ocean ridge research
2007-2013: Lecturer in Marine Ecology, University of Southampton
2005-2007: Senior Teaching Fellow in Marine Ecology, University of Southampton
2000-2004: Science Coordinator, NERC Autosub Under Ice research programme
2000-2005: Teaching Fellow in Marine Ecology, University of Southampton
1998-1999: Intern, then Reporter, then Assistant News Editor, New Scientist magazine


PhD in Oceanography, University of Southampton, 1998
MSc in Oceanography, University of Southampton, 1994
First Class BSc(Hons) in Zoology, University of Sheffield, 1992






Research interests

My recent projects have explored four areas:

* East Scotia Ridge, Southern Ocean
* Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre, Caribbean Sea
* Mid-Atlantic Ridge north of the Azores
* the SW Indian Ridge

where my work addresses three main topics (please see Publications tab for a full list of my research papers):

(1) Global biogeography of deep-sea chemosynthetic environments
(e.g. Copley et al., 2016; Chen et al., 2015a; Roterman et al., 2013; Connelly et al., 2012; Rogers et al., 2012; Copley et al. 2007a)

Why do we find particular species of animals at hydrothermal vents in some areas but not elsewhere? Why are some types of animals more widespread than others in habitats such as hydrothermal vents or cold seeps around the world? These are the big questions, and answering them should give us a better understanding of how species disperse and evolve in deep-sea habitats. Answering them also involves describing new species from the areas that we are exploring, and analysing their genetic code to determine how they are related to other species elsewhere.

Here are some of the new species that my team has described from expeditions:

* Pachycara caribbaeum Anderson, Somerville & Copley 2016 (deep-sea eelpout fish)
* Gigantopelta chessoia & Gigantopelta aegis Chen et al. 2015b ("giant" peltospirid snails)
* Paulasterias tyleri Mah et al. 2015 (seven-armed seastar)
* Chrysomallon squamiferum Chen, Linse, Copley & Rogers 2015 ("scaly-foot" snail)
* Osedax rogersi & Osedax crouchi Amon et al. 2014 (bone-eating "zombie" worms)
* Lebbeus virentova Nye, Copley, Plouviez & Van Dover 2013 ("green goolie" shrimp)
* Iheyaspira bathycodon Nye, Linse, Copley & Plouviez 2013 (deep-sea snail)
* Rimicaris hybisae Nye, Copley & Plouviez 2012 (world's deepest known vent shrimp)

(2) Spatial & temporal dynamics of faunal assemblages in chemosynthetic environments
(e.g. Amon et al., 2013; Marsh et al., 2013; Marsh et al., 2012; Copley et al., 2007)

Within a hydrothermal vent field, cold seep, or whale-fall, my goal is to understand what lives where and why. For example, why are some species abundant on vent chimneys, while other species only thrive at the edge of a vent field?

Unfortunately we can't stroll around the ocean floor as easily as ecologists do on rocky shores to investigate their patterns of life, so we are developing new techniques to study the microdistribution of animals in these environments, using high-definition cameras and the precision-control capabilities of the latest generation of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

(3) Life-history biology of species occupying insular & ephemeral marine habitats
(e.g. Roterman et al., 2016; Amon et al., 2015; Marsh et al., 2015; Nye & Copley, 2014; Nye et al., 2013; Copley et al., 2007b; Copley & Young, 2006; Copley et al., 2003)

How do animals "hop" from vent to vent, or seep to seep, or whale skeleton to whale skeleton, in the deep ocean? The species we find in these island-like habitats on the ocean floor seem to have a variety of life cycles, types of larval development, and reproductive patterns. But are some features of their life-history biology "preadaptations" for success in these environments? And what are the consequences of differences in life-history biology for dispersal, gene flow, and ultimately biogeography?

My work in this area involves characterising the life-cycles of animals from hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, whale-falls, and wood-falls, in conjunction with studies of the genetics of their populations by colleagues around the world.

Research grants

Co-Investigator, The colonisation of hydrothermal vents by complex life: a natural experiment in macroevolution (NERC £433k Standard Grant), 2017-2020

Principal Investigator, Hydrothermal activity and deep-ocean biology of the Mid-Cayman Rise (NERC £462k Standard Grant), 2009-2014

Co-Investigator, ChEsSo: Chemosynthetic Ecosystems of the Southern Ocean (NERC £3.2 million Consortium Grant), 2008-2014

Principal Investigator, Biogeography and ecology of the first known deep-sea vent site on the ultraslow-spreading SW Indian Ridge (NERC £35k Small Grant), 2011-2012

Lead investigator, Deep-sea vents between the Azores and Iceland: missing piece in a global puzzle of marine life (£43k National Geographic Expeditions Fund Grant), 2011-2012

Informing policy

Contributed comments on the first draft of regulations for mineral exploitation by the UN International Seabed Authority (2016)

Provided written evidence to House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on Marine Protected Areas (2016)

Contributor to Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology Briefing Note on deep-sea mining (2015)

Participant, Royal Society Parliamentary Pairing Scheme (2014)

Prepared case for an Ecologically or Biologically Sensitive Area (EBSA) in the Indian Ocean, submitted by the UK to a regional meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (2013)

Deep-sea research expeditions

Participant, MV Alucia expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula, December 2016, with the Nadir and Deep Rover 2 submersibles

Participant, RV Yokosuka Voyage YK13-05 (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology), Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre, Caribbean Sea, June 2013, with the Shinkai6500 submersible

Principal Scientist, RRS James Cook Voyage 82, Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre, Caribbean Sea, February 2013, with the Isis remotely operated vehicle (ROV)

Principal Scientist, RRS James Cook Voyage 67, SW Indian Ridge, November 2011, with the Kiel6000 ROV

Participant, RV Celtic Explorer Voyage CE11009 (Irish Marine Institute), northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge, July-August 2011, with the Holland-1 ROV

Participant, RRS James Cook Voyage 55, Southern Ocean, January-February 2011

Participant, RRS James Cook Voyage 44, Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre, Caribbean Sea, March-April 2010, with the Autosub6000 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV)

Participant, RRS James Cook Voyage 42, East Scotia Ridge, Southern Ocean, January-February 2010, with the Isis ROV

Participant, RRS James Clark Ross Voyage 224, East Scotia Ridge, Southern Ocean, January-February 2009

Research group

Marine Biology and Ecology

Research project(s)

Exploring the Deep Ocean



Book Chapter


Current teaching

SOES1006 Elements of Marine Ecology - lecturer

Previous teaching roles

Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes in Ocean & Earth Science
Programme Leader, MSc Oceanography
Programme Leader, MSc Marine Resource Management
Co-ordinator, SOES6020 Structure & Dynamics of Marine Communities
Co-ordinator, SOES6018 MSc Key Skills
Co-ordinator, SOES6039 MSc Research Projects
Co-ordinator, SOES2030 Marine Biology Field Skills
Co-ordinator, SOES1003 IT, Communication, Field & Laboratory Skills
Co-ordinator, OA634 Coastal & Estuarine Oceanography
Lecturer, SOES6008 Deep-Sea Ecology
Lecturer, SOES1008 Earth & Ocean System

Teaching awards

Vice-Chancellor's Award for Postgraduate Supervision & Training 2011
Vice Chancellor's Award for Teaching 2007

Other teaching achievements

Lead Educator in creation & delivery of "Exploring Our Oceans" Massive Open Online Couse (MOOC), 2014-2016, Highly Commended in The Ocean Awards 2016

Introduced a microROV facility for marine biology practical teaching, in a collaboration with the Natural History Museum

Published research on students' use of digital recordings of lectures.

Our everyday lives are more connected to the deep ocean than we realise, from using its resources to producing waste that ends up there, and public engagement therefore needs to be at the heart of ocean exploration for us to choose the future of our blue planet.

I work with traditional media to share the exploration of the oceans with millions worldwide (e.g. helping BBC Blue Planet 2 bring life in the oceans to an expected global audience of 200 million people), present "face-to-face" talks and events about deep-sea research (total audiences of >16,000 people so far), and create online resources for people to share in our discoveries (e.g. deep-sea expeditions website visited by >300,000 people from 90+ countries).

I also write "popular science" articles primarily about marine science, some ocean technology, and "other stuff" (e.g. zoology, environmental microbiology, Earth science), and I have enjoyed advising TV and audio drama productions featuring deep-sea science, as another opportunity to engage people with the ocean depths.

For a full list of my engagement activities, please see my personal webpages

Recent TV / film documentaries

* Scientific consultant & onscreen contributor, BBC Natural History Unit Blue Planet 2 series (scheduled for autumn 2017 broadcast)
* Onscreen contributor with WAG TV for Discovery's Science Channel, in production for 2017
* Onscreen contributor, Alucia Productions Antarctic expedition IMAX documentary, in production for 2017
* Scientific consultant, BBC Natural History Unit Atlantic: The Wildest Ocean on Earth, 6 Aug 2015

Recent radio / podcasts

* Contributor, BBC World Service "Oceans" series (in production for autumn 2017 broadcast)
* The Anthill podcast from The Conversation UK, 26 Jul 2017
* The Naked Scientists (live), BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, 23 Jul 2017 (also podcast; BBC Radio 5 Live; & ABC Radio in Australia)
* The Infinite Monkey Cage, BBC Radio 4, 06 Feb 2017

Recent public talks / events

* Keynote speaker, European Maritime Day, May 2017
* Medicine Unboxed, Cheltenham, Nov 2016
* U3A at the Ri, Royal Institution, London, Oct 2016
* Bluedot festival, Jodrell Bank, Jul 2016
* The Ocean Debates, Royal Institution, London, Oct 2015
* Science Uncovered, Natural History Museum, London, Sep 2015
* British Science Festival, Bradford, Sep 2015

Recent news media interviews

* BBC News online, 19 Dec 2016
* BBC News online, 14 Dec 2016
* The Washington Post, 29 Jul 2016
* Ten O'Clock News, BBC One, 6 May 2016
* ITV News At Ten, 6 May 2016

Some "popular science writing" highlights

* When politics met science: harmony or hegemony?, New Scientist, 05 Dec 2014
* Just how little do we know about the ocean floor?, The Conversation, Scientific American and IFLScience, 09 Oct 2014
* Five thousand metres under the sea: my journey to another world, The Guardian, 05 Jul 2013
* Litter found in deepsea survey of one of Earth's final unexplored realms, The Guardian, 25 Feb 2013
* Lonely whale's song remains a mystery, New Scientist, 10 Dec 2004
* Beach blob mystery solved at last, New Scientist, 27 Jun 2004
* Oceanography: All wired up, Nature 427: 10-12, 1 Jan 2004
* All at sea, Nature 415: 572-574, 7 Feb 2002
* The great ice mystery, Nature 408: 634-636, 7 Dec 2000

Talks & visits to schools: some highlights

* Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester: February 2013 (live video link from sea), Oct 2012, May 2012, May 2010, June 2009
* London International Youth Science Forum, Aug 2012
* The Prince's Teaching Institute (CPD event for teachers), Mar 2012, Mar 2011
* Society for Underwater Technology Christmas Lectures, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Dec 2005

Online engagement

* Expeditionlog Twitter feed
* Expeditionlog YouTube channel
* These Are The Voyages deep-sea expedition webpages, 2010-2013
* "Exploring Our Oceans" Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), delivered by Futurelearn, 2014-2016
* Ocean life free eBooks, 2012 & 2013
* TEDx talk, Southampton, Mar 2013
* Winner, Neon Zone, "I'm A Scientist" online schools engagement competition, Jun 2010

Science in drama

* Scientific Adviser, The Light of September, online audio sci-fi starring Sylvester McCoy, Tamsin Grieg, Robert Picardo, Tuppence Middleton (2016)
* Scientific Adviser, The Deep, BBC One thriller starring James Nesbitt, Minnie Driver, Goran Visnjic , Tobias Menzies (2010)

Awards & prizes

* Highly Commended in Projects category of The Ocean Awards 2016, for Massive Open Online Course on "Exploring Our Oceans"
* Biosciences Federation Science Communication Award for Established Researchers 2008
* British Science Association Charles Lyell Lecture Award 2007
* 1st Prize, Wellcome Trust / New Scientist Millenial Essay Competition 1997
* 2nd Prize, The Daily Telegraph Young Science Writer Awards 1996

Dr Jonathan Copley
Ocean and Earth Science
National Oceanography Centre Southampton
University of Southampton Waterfront Campus
European Way
Southampton SO14 3ZH

Room Number:NOCS/164/11

Dr Jonathan Copley's personal home page
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