Researchers Survey Mid-Atlantic Ridge Looking For New Forms of Marine Life, Clues to Deep-Sea Communities

Jun 30, 2009
A deep-sea anglerfish caught during the current MAR-ECO cruise. Its sharp teeth are angled inward to prevent prey from escaping after being attracted by the brightly-colored "lure" above the fish's mouth. (Credit: David Shale)

(PhysOrg.com) -- An international team of researchers is surveying the Mid-Atlantic Ridge halfway between Iceland and the Azores to determine its biodiversity and perhaps discover new species and clues to deep-sea food webs. The project is part of a 16-nation effort to determine if the underwater mountain chain in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean has its own distinct animal communities.

Led by NOAA researcher Mike Vecchione of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), headquartered in Woods Hole, Mass., the research team is working aboard the 208-foot NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow for six weeks as part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project, or MAR-ECO. The cruise is funded by NOAA Fisheries Service with additional support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The MAR-ECO project is one of 14 field programs that are part of the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year global study of the abundance, distribution and diversity of marine life in the world's oceans. The Census began in 2000 and seeks by 2010 to determine what lives in the ocean and how this life has changed with time. The Census also strives to make information about marine life more accessible and usable through products like an on-line encyclopedia of both old and newly-discovered species.

Vecchione, a specialist in deep-sea squids and octopods and director of NOAA's National Systematics Laboratory, participated in a Norwegian MAR-ECO cruise in 2004. He also led an expedition in 2003 using the human-occupied Russian MIR submersibles to explore depths on the ridge up to 15,000 feet.

"The mid-ocean ridge system is a huge feature of the earth's surface but has generally been the subject of very little biological study. It is important to understand what lives in the deep waters around and above mid-ocean ridges because they are such a major component of our planet's living space," Vecchione said. "We are also investigating how the deep-sea food web works. We really don't know what is living in these waters, who eats whom, or how deep-sea fishing and the decline of many large species, such as deep-diving whales, at the top of the food web may be affecting everyone else."

Much of the expedition, which began June 12 and ends July 17, is focused on an area of the ridge around 52 degrees north latitude known as the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone, which divides the ridge into northern and southern sections. Water depths here range from 1,600 to almost 15,000 feet and the terrain is very rugged, making it a challenging environment to sample and collect data.

The Henry B. Bigelow is one of four new NOAA Fisheries research vessels and supports the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The Bigelow's primary mission is to study and monitor marine fisheries in the Northeast U.S., but the ship also conducts marine mammal and bird surveys, participates in habitat assessments and is an observing platform for weather, sea state and other environmental data. The vessel is equipped with advanced technology known as "quiet-hull" that reduces the impact of sound on and other advanced technologies for sampling and on-board studies.

"Because of its fishing capabilities, the Bigelow is especially well suited for the goal of this cruise: to sample the deep-sea nekton - swimming animals like fishes, shrimps, and squids," Vecchione said.

Source: NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (news : web)

Explore further: Excavated ship traced to Colonial-era Philadelphia

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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 ran ...

Study reveals secret sex life of fish

Feb 22, 2006

Scientists have long thought of deep-sea pelagic fish as nomadic wanderers, but now they suspect the fish may be meeting at ridges or seamounts to spawn.

Scientists conduct DNA tests at sea

Apr 25, 2006

Scientists have, for the first time, used DNA sequencing at sea in the Atlantic Ocean to identify a previously unknown life form.

Scientists discover new life in the Antarctic deep sea

May 16, 2007

Scientists have found hundreds of new marine creatures in the vast, dark deep-sea surrounding Antarctica. Carnivorous sponges, free-swimming worms, crustaceans, and molluscs living in the Weddell Sea provide ...

Recommended for you

New research reveals Pele is powerful, even in the sky

2 hours ago

One might assume that a tropical storm moving through volcanic smog (vog) would sweep up the tainted air and march on, unchanged. However, a recent study from atmospheric scientists at the University of Hawai'i ...

Image: Wildfires continue near Yellowknife, Canada

3 hours ago

The wildfires that have been plaguing the Northern Territories in Canada and have sent smoke drifting down to the Great Lakes in the U.S. continue on. NASA's Aqua satellite collected this natural-color image ...

Excavated ship traced to Colonial-era Philadelphia

4 hours ago

Four years ago this month, archeologists monitoring the excavation of the former World Trade Center site uncovered a ghostly surprise: the bones of an ancient sailing ship. Tree-ring scientists at Columbia ...

Tropical tempests take encouragement from environment

5 hours ago

Mix some warm ocean water with atmospheric instability and you might have a recipe for a cyclone. Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Atlanta Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2009
GREAT!

It is reassuring to see researchers focusing their time and talents on planet Earth.

Congratulations,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://omatumr.com