Scientists to explore the 'Grand Canyon' of the oceans

Nov 04, 2005

The deepest, darkest, most inhospitable place on Earth is the focus of a new 2 million research project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
The ECOMAR project will explore the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a mountain range about the size of the Alps, located deep beneath the Atlantic Ocean. The research will be mainly concentrated around the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone, a giant canyon hundreds of miles long and about 20 miles wide, that cuts through the mountain range and connects the two halves of the ocean.

Led by Professor Monty Priede, Director of Oceanlab at the University of Aberdeen, the consortium of researchers aims to determine the local, regional and global ecological impact of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as a physical structure. It will provide a comprehensive overview of how all forms of life interact and function in this environment. The researchers’ findings will feed into a global Census of Marine Life project.

Professor Priede said, “We are all very excited about ECOMAR. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a difficult place to carry out research of this nature, which is why there is so little known about it at present. One of the things we want to find out is what types of marine animals live on the two sides of the Ridge and how they are related. This should help us to ascertain if the mountain range acts as a barrier.”

They will also examine the variety and spread of species in the sub-polar front, the boundary between cold, fertile surface waters to the north of the gulf stream (which flows above the Charlie Gibbs Facture Zone) and the less productive warm water to the south. As well as investigating marine life, the researchers will be measuring the circulation of ocean currents and the extent of food, nutrients and carbon carried to the sea floor in ‘marine snow’ –the remains of dead plankton – and the carcasses of whales and fish.

Other areas of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge have been studied before, when swarms of deep-sea creatures were discovered thriving in the hot, toxic waters surrounding hydrothermal vents (underwater volcanoes that spew out plumes of sulphurous black smoke).

Said Professor Priede, “Scientists have been so excited by hydrothermal vents that the ecology in other areas of the Ridge has been neglected. We don’t know what we’ll find down there but we intend to address that neglect and fill in some of the knowledge gaps.”

The researchers will be aided in their quest by the use of advanced technology and equipment, including unmanned robotic vehicles, remote sensing from satellites and precise acoustic techniques. They will be sailing aboard the new Royal Research Ship James Cook as it embarks on one of its first research voyages.

Source: Natural Environment Research Council

Explore further: NASA's reliance on outsourcing launches causes a dilemma for the space agency

Related Stories

Researchers discover new mechanism of DNA repair

55 minutes ago

The DNA molecule is chemically unstable giving rise to DNA lesions of different nature. That is why DNA damage detection, signaling and repair, collectively known as the DNA damage response, are needed.

Recommended for you

Hubble view: Wolf-Rayet stars, intense and short-lived

Jul 03, 2015

This NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Hubble Space Telescope picture shows a galaxy named SBS 1415+437 (also called SDSS CGB 12067.1), located about 45 million light-years from Earth. SBS 1415+437 is a Wolf-Rayet ...

Crash test assesses plane emergency locator transmitters

Jul 03, 2015

The Cessna 172 airplane dangled 82 feet in the air – looking almost like it was coming in for a landing, except for the cables attaching it to a huge gantry at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, ...

NASA image: Curiosity's stars and stripes

Jul 03, 2015

This view of the American flag medallion on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity was taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 44th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Sept. 19, 2012). ...

NASA image: Stellar sparklers that last

Jul 03, 2015

While fireworks only last a short time here on Earth, a bundle of cosmic sparklers in a nearby cluster of stars will be going off for a very long time. NGC 1333 is a star cluster populated with many young ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.