[03.06.2004] One of the world’s most advanced research vessels, the new Norwegian RV, the G.O. Sars, sets out 5 June for a two-month expedition along the mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores. Scientists from the international research project, MAR-ECO, 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, to further knowledge about life in the world’s oceans. The MAR-ECO project, addressing marine life in the waters around the northern portion of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, is part of this CoML programme.
There are over 100 scientists from 16 countries participating in MAR-ECO. The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, assisted by the University of Bergen, has the leadership responsibility for the project, which addresses 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 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 able to sustainably manage these relatively unexplored resources.
The project entered its field phase in 2003, where the highlight was the opportunity to undertake two dives aboard the Russian manned MIR submersibles in some of the deepest, most unexplored waters of the project area; 3500 – 4000m down in the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone. Video footage from the dives has already provided some new intriguing information; including a greater than expected concentration of marine snow, or organic debris sifting down from the more productive surface layers of the ocean as well as a surprisingly rich fauna on and near the sea floor, including at least one new species that has never been seen before. The intriguing images from these two short dives underline the tremendous potential for new discoveries in this project.
Although project participants are involved in a number of cruises over the project period, the largest expedition is the two-month cruise aboard the Norwegian G.O. Sars, June-July 2004. The ship sets sail from Bergen, Norway 5 June and criss-crosses the Ridge from south of Iceland to the Azores, where it docks in Horta, July 3. The second, northward leg, will explore representative regions in more depth, returning finally to Bergen 4 August. The ship is outfitted 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 to scientists from around the world.
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 there for scientists and the general public alike.
Project leader / cruise leader: Odd Aksel Bergstad +47 90539902
Information director (Institute of Marine Research): Jo Høyer +47 55 23 85 21 / +47 95 11 92 16
Information Officer: Anette W. Petersen +47 55 23 84 43