Introduction: Marine life on The Mid-Atlantic Ridge

Photo: David Shale
RV G.O.Sars and MS Loran. (Photo: David Shale)

The highlights and preliminary results from the MAR-ECO expedition 2004 was released at a Press Conference in the Norwegian city Bergen, August 2004.

By Odd Aksel Bergstad, Chair of the International Steering Group of MAR-ECO (Institute of Marine Research, Norway)

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 international research programme Census of Marine Life (CoML) 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. MAR-ECO, one of several elements of the CoML, is an international research project in which approx. 110 scientists and students from 16 nations take part.

Norway, represented by the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) and the University of Bergen (UoB), co-ordinates the project that will enhance our understanding of occurrence, distribution and ecology of animals and animal communities along the mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) between Iceland and the Azores.

The primary groups of animals to be studied are fishes, crustaceans, cephalopods (squids and octopods) and a wide range of gelatinous animals (e.g. jellyfish) living either near the seabed or in midwater above the ridge. The depth range of the study extends from surface waters to the deep troughs associated with the MAR, at 4500 m.

The project provides new data and material for basic science, and will enhance our knowledge of biodiversity of the poorly known mid-ocean habitats and ecosystems. This new insight will assist science-based management of oceanic living resources and habitats. MAR-ECO also provides good training and networking opportunities for a growing number of students and scientists from several disciplines.

In the 2003-2005 field phase a number of research cruises have been/will be carried out. A major effort has been this year’s two-month international expedition on the Norwegian RV G.O. Sars, and the chartered longliner MS Loran.