What is MAR-ECO?
We inhabit the blue planet, but our knowledge of life underneath the blue surfaces of the ocean remains surprisingly limited. In reality, investigations of marine life have just begun, and it is only now, when we can utilize custom-built research ships and the finest modern technology, that we can learn how ecosystems in the oceans are structured and function.
The research programme Census of Marine Life seriously addresses this situation and challenges marine biologists to utilize the most advanced technology to achieve true new information in areas of the ocean that were poorly studied previously. The project MAR-ECO, an element of the Census of Marine Life, rises to the challenge and investigates the diverse animal life along the vast underwater mountain chains of the open ocean.
An international research project
MAR-ECO is an international research project in which scientists from 16 nations take part. Norway, represented by the Institute of Marine Research and the University of Bergen, co-ordinates the project which will enhance our understanding of occurrence, distribution and ecology of animals and animal communities along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Iceland and the Azores. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the volcanic mountain range in the middle of the ocean, marking the spreading zone between the Eurasian and American continental plates. New ocean floor is constantly being formed, and Iceland and the Azores are volcanic islands created when the mid-ocean ridge breaks the sea surface. The fascinating groups of animals to be studied are fishes, crustaceans, cephalopods (squids) and a wide range of gelatinous animals (e.g. jellyfish) living either near the seabed or in midwater above the ridge.
MAR-ECO will adopt the the most advanced technology and instruments for observing and sample the animals and to tackle the challenge of working to 3500 m depth and in rugged terrain. An international multidisciplinary team of biologists, oceanographers, and engineers is offered this rare opportunity. A number of countries have committed their best research vessels, and in the 2003-2005 and 2007-2010 field phases a number of research cruises will be carried out. In 2004, a two-month major international expedition was carried out by the new Norwegian vessel RV G.O. Sars, but vessels from Iceland, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, USA, and Portugal will also take part. In June 2003 a Russian-US cruise using the manned submersibles MIR-1 and -2 took scientists to areas never before visited by humans at 4500m below the surface.
Contributing to sustainable development
MAR-ECO shall enhance the basic knowledge of ocean life and thereby contribute to a sustainable international management of marine resources and the priceless biodiversity of the marine environment. Knowledge obtained by a unified international effort carries greater weight in the policy-making processes than information gathered by isolated national research. Good science may hopefully lead to international concensus on appropriate action.
MAR-ECO and the Census of Marine Life emphasises public outreach and even in the planning phase MAR-ECO has enjoyed considerable public attention and support. Expeditions to unknown depths of the oceans appear to have great appeal, both to scientists and the interested laymen of all ages.
Enjoy following the MAR-ECO project at www.mar-eco.no during the remainder of the project period toward the conclusion in 2010! In 2009-2010 a spin-off project will start in the South Atlantic.