"New Continent" on the seabed

Expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge returns in rich yield

Wonderland of the deep sea © David Shale
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An expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, midway between Europe and North America, has not only brought back fascinating images of the ocean floor and its environment, but also discovered some rare and even previously unknown species.

The deep sea along the undersea mountains, which marks the interface between the crustal plates of Europe and America, has so far been largely unexplored. Only recently has the technology to explore the lifeworld in these depths and in the rugged terrain. A team of 31 scientists was now on the research vessel "James Cook" for five weeks to explore the seabed along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores. The researchers mapped almost 2, 500 square kilometers of seabed and used state-of-the-art underwater technology, including eight specialized cameras to study and identify deep-sea organisms.

The aim of the expedition was, on the one hand, to contribute to the Census of Marine Life, a ten-year initiative to determine the diversity, distribution and frequency of life in the Earth's oceans. On the other hand, the research trip was part of the project MAR-ECO, which specifically researches biodiversity along the mid-ocean ridge.

"Like a new continent"

The results of the expedition have already far exceeded expectations. The scientists got fascinating insights into the underwater world and came across a wealth of new or rare species. "It's like exploring a new continent, halfway between America and Europe, " explains Monty Priede, director of the University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab. "We recognize the sentient beings, but the familiar are absent and uncommon pile up. We find species here that are rare or unknown in other regions of the world. "

Octopus © David Shale

Down below, at the base of the mighty Untersee mountain range, colorful sponges and corals cover rocky outcroppings, sedimentary tongues are populated by starfish, sea cucumbers and numerous worm species, which in turn provide fish, crabs and crabs with a richly laid table. Using their tongs, nets and drills, the scientists brought thousands of specimens and other samples on board for further investigation. They are now being analyzed in laboratories on land. Already the researchers think it probable that they have discovered at least one new species of shellfish. display

Automatic submarine observatories exposed

"The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is still relatively unexplored, so this trip has played a crucial role in expanding our knowledge of the biodiversity of this region, " explains Steven Wilson. Head of the Science Department of the Natural Environment Research Council of Great Britain. The expedition not only provided new insights into the diversity of organisms, but also about the conditions prevailing there in the depths. The researchers carried out daily measurements of water flows, temperatures, productivity and other parameters and left behind six submarine observatories equipped with automatic measuring instruments at various positions on the seafloor. Further expeditions are planned for 2008 and 2009, which will then, among other things, collect these measuring stations and evaluate their data.

(Census of Marine Life, 20.08.2007 - NPO)