Secrets of the deep sea to be unearthed

Secrets of the deep sea to be unearthed

Secrets of the deep sea to be unearthed

A scientist and a student from the University of Aberdeen are heading off next week for a month long expedition along the mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores.

Professor Monty Priede, Director of the University's highly-acclaimed Oceanlab, and Nikki King will join other scientists on board one of the world's most advanced research vessels, the Norwegian RV, the G.O. Sars.

They will become part of the international research project, MAR-ECO, and will use the latest technology to learn more about what is living in this remote and relatively unexplored deep sea environment.

Although around 70% of the earth's surface is covered by oceans, the marine environment is less explored than outer space, and researchers know less about the deep sea than they do about Mars! The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has decided to do something about this and has funded a decade-long global initiative entitled the Census of Marine Life (CoML), an international research programme exploring the abundance, distribution and diversity of life in the world's oceans.

MAR-ECO is a pilot project within the Census of Marine Life programme and will be addressing marine life in the waters around the northern portion of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, as part of the CoML programme.

There are over 100 scientists from 16 countries participating in MAR-ECO, addressing such fundamental questions as: what lives in these waters? what are the patterns of distribution? are they different on the different sides of the ridge, or north and south of the sub polar front? who is eating what? Some of the species are known to be very long-lived, but much more information is needed about the life histories of these oceanic species in order to better understand, and ultimately be better equipped to sustainably manage these relatively unexplored resources.

Professor Priede, an experienced leader of research cruises, is providing two underwater vehicles from Oceanlab which will be used to capture images of fishes and other creatures living in different parts of the

Mid Atlantic Ridge. The ROBIO lander will be launched down to the sea floor at depths from 500m to 4000m and remain in place for up to a day at a time surveying the fauna before ascending to be retrieved by the ship before the expedition moves on to the next study site. DOBO, the deep ocean benthic observatory, will remain in one place at the bottom of one of the giant canyons in the cuts through the ridge at the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone. It will capture data for one month before being brought back to Aberdeen where the data will be analysed.

Professor Priede is looking forward to the trip and to the discoveries that will be made. One ambition is to discover the breeding grounds of the mysterious deep sea grenadier fish. This fish is found throughout the world's oceans but no one has ever found where the adults meet up to breed. The Mid Atlantic Ridge is the only place in the North Atlantic that we have not searched so far.

Before departing for the voyage, Professor Priede explained: "Myself and Nikki are delighted to have been chosen to represent the University of Aberdeen to take part in this prestigious, international research programme. We are keen to begin our work to further knowledge about life in the world's oceans."

The largest expedition is the two-month cruise aboard the Norwegian G.O. Sars, June-July 2004. The ship set sail from Bergen in Norway on June 5 and criss-crosses the Ridge from south of Iceland to the Azores, where it docks in Horta, on July 3. This is the second, northward leg, and Professor Priede and the rest of the team will explore representative regions in more depth, returning to Bergen on August 4. The ship is equipped with the latest acoustic and sampling technologies. The G.O. Sars will be accompanied by a Norwegian long-liner, the Loran, during the second leg, which will undertake complementary sampling operations. Bergen Museum will be responsible for curating the material from the G.O. Sars cruise. This material will then be available for study by scientists from around the world.

At the end of the research programme, the MAR-ECO team will be stopping in Aberdeen for the day before heading back to Bergen. The G.O. Sars ship will be docked in Aberdeen Harbour on Tuesday, August 3 and schoolchildren from the Aberdeen area have been invited on board to get a privileged tour on board the ship.

The project web site will be updated daily with information about the research and exploration activities. The web site also contains background information about the project and information from other research cruises in the project. Information is available for scientists and the general public. Visit: http://mareco.imr.no/Shiptoshore/g._o._sars

Professor Priede and Nikki King will be heading to join the rest of the international team on board the G.O. Sars tomorrow (Friday, July 2) and will be on board for the whole of July, returning when the ship docks in Aberdeen.

Interviews/photographs of Professor Monty Priede can be arranged for this afternoon (Thursday, July 1). Please contact Angela Ferguson on: +44 1224 272960 to arrange.

For further details about the voyage or contact:

Angela Ferguson: +44 1224 272960 or Anette Petersen: +47 55 23 84 43.

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