The dark recesses of deep ocean waters often seem otherworldly. But findings published in the current issue of the journal Science indicate that sea beds are very much tied to this world. Researchers report that environmental conditions on the surface may have far-reaching effects on organisms living at the bottom of the abyss.

Over the course of a 14-year period that included significant climate events such as El Nio, Henry Ruhl of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and his colleagues tracked the well-being of deep-sea life off the coast of central California. It's important to study these places on a long timescale because you can't predict what is going to happen just by studying it once, explains study co-author Ken Smith, also at Scripps. Despite being more than four kilometers below the surface, sea cucumbers, urchins and other marine life around the study site (known as Station M) experienced population fluctuations that coincided with climate change on the surface. Some creatures had their numbers cut sharply, whereas others thrived in tune with surface happenings.

The researchers have not yet determined how weather above the ocean might exert influence on the ocean floor; the data so far has only identified the correlations. But the results warrant further investigation because, as Ruhl notes, large animals, the kind you would be able to see if you were standing on the bottom of the ocean, may be impacted by climate just the same as animals in shallow water or terrestrial environments.