New Study Finds Deep Sea Not as Remote as Thought

Written by on September 7, 2012 in Marine Life
Red spiked sea cucumber, cerianthid anemone, and sea star at 2,854 meters below the surface. Photo credit NOAA, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Red spiked sea cucumber, cerianthid anemone, and sea star at 2,854 meters below the surface. Photo credit NOAA, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

A new study examined life in the deep sea and how it is impacted by food, temperature, and other forms of energy.

One of the goals of the research was to determine how the lack of energy, light and warmth affects the creatures living down there. The results of this study will help scientists learn what to expect from climate change, when food and energy availability will be much different.

“Our findings indicate that the deep sea, once thought remote and buffered against climatic change, may function quite differently in the future,” the team writes in their paper.

Things to know about the deep sea:

  • defined as anything beyond 600 feet or 200 meters
  • there is little to no light penetration
  • food is scarce
  • energy is in short supply
  • most creatures depend on particles of dead and decaying matter that sink from above
  • it is estimated that less than 1% of food at the surface reaches the deep sea

Craig McClain of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center explains the main question they aimed to answer: “How much of the differences that we see across different groups of deep sea animals in terms of growth, or lifespan, or the number of species, are related to differences in the temperature or amount of food where they occur?”

Their findings:

  • food and warmth vary considerably
  • temperature has the biggest impact on individuals
  • food has a bigger impact on higher levels like abundance and diversity
  • areas with more food were more diverse and generally hosted larger individuals

“The news is not good,” said co-author Michael Rex of the University of Massachusetts in Boston.  “Changes in temperature and food availability associated with climate change could cause widespread extinction in the deep ocean if environmental changes occur faster than deep-sea organisms can respond by shifting their ranges or adapting to new conditions.”

You can read the full study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here:

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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