A team of researchers from 16 nations have, as of Friday, July 17, completed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge Ecosystem Project, or MAR-ECO. Led by NOAA researched Mike Vecchione of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), the MAR-ECO project was a 6 week survey of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, halfway between Iceland and Azores, designed to determine its biodiversity, identify any new species and to shed some light on the deep-sea food webs.
The project is one of 14 field programs that are a part of the Census of Marine Life. The Census is a ten-year project that began in 2000 and will end by 2010 when it will have, hopefully, determined what lives in the ocean and how it is changing over time.
The research team worked aboard the 208-foot NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow. They spent most of the 6 weeks around 52 degrees north latitude in an area known as the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone. The water depths there range from 1,600 feet to almost 15,000 feet.
Vecchione is a specialist in deep-sea squids and octopods and is the director of NOAA’s National Systematics Library. He participated in the Norwegian MAR-ECO project in 2004 and in 2003 he led an expedition to explore depths of up to 15,000 feet, using human-occupied Russian MIR submersibles.
“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.”
On August 1, 2009 the RSS James Cook will journey to the mid-Atlantic Ridge to collect more information on all aspects of the ridge. The researchers, led by Professor Monty Priede of the University of Aberdeen and director of Oceanlab, will collect data about the surface waters and temperatures, and will continue to search for other forms of life.
Copyright © 2009 Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC