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Descartes prize

Treasure hunt in MAR-ECO material

Erlend and Gunnar Langhelle (son and father) from Bergen Museueum are sorting the material into genetic families.

Tracey Sutton, from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (USA), identifies deepsea species.

Fish-taxonomists from Russia, Norway, Scotland, Portugal og USA at a workshop at Espegrend near Bergen.

Odd Aksel Bergstad is holding a  Antimora rostrata - while collecting the MS Loran-material from the cold room at IMR

Tutored by the MAR-ECO scientist, Nicola King from University of Aberdeen, students from the Ellon Academy in Scotland has been doing scientific research based on MAR-ECO.

The material gathered by the MAR-ECO expedition last summer contains a wealth of hidden treasures. We are continually discovering something new”, reveals Odd Aksel Bergstad. The project manager says that preparing the materials, receiving visiting scientists, holding seminars and recruiting students have kept the scientists busy.

By Anette W. Petersen

Ever since the RV G.O. Sars returned from its two-month MAR-ECO expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, activity at Bergen Museum, which is in charge of the material, has remained at a high level.

“Several people have been working at high speed to prepare the frozen samples of fish and other animals for the Museum so that they will be ready for further analysis”, says Odd Aksel Bergstad.

The analyses, most of which will be done in Bergen, are well under way. “There already have been, are and will be, many scientists visiting both Bergen and the Flødevigen Field Station, where the zooplankton material is stored. A number of seminars and working meetings have already been organised; scientists working on birds and marine mammals are meeting in Iceland, the zooplankton scientists have already had working meetings in Iceland, the Faeroes and in Flødevigen, and just last week a number of fish taxonomists came together at the University’s biological field station at Espegrend near Bergen.

First results on the way

“A lot of exciting results are turning up every time people meet to look at the material”, says Bergstad. For example, the Russian sponge expert Konstantin Tabachnik and Allen Collins from the USA, who visited Bergen Museum in February, believe that they have identified two new species of glass sponges.

“So there are obviously a lot of potential new finds in the material, and this is true of all the animal groups of which we have samples. There is still a great deal that we know nothing about”.

Much painstaking work needs to be done before any scientific conclusions can be drawn, and it will obviously take some time - perhaps a long time - before all the wide range of material is processed. However, some of the results of the project are already on the way.

“We are already writing articles for publication in international scientific journals” says Bergstad.

This summer, on June 3rd and 4th, the international MAR-ECO team will hold a status meeting in Lisbon.

“So far, 50 scientific presentations have been submitted, ranging from tentative descriptions of new species to more ecologically oriented studies which will be of significance for our understanding of the mid-Atlantic ecosystems”, says the research manager, obviously impressed. Some of the scientific contributions come from students.

“The student population has grown. We have many students working on the project, from Iceland, the US, Scotland and Norway, some of them from the University of Bergen”.

As leader of the international project, which involves 16 countries, Bergstad faces a major task in stimulating further work on the material and data that have been gathered.

“We are struggling to finance the work of preparing the material. We would like to have more Ph.D. students, and we are applying for money for them here in Norway and abroad”.

More titbits for the public

The project, which was awarded the Research Council of Norway’s popularisation prize for 2004, still takes its responsibility for public information seriously.

“One of the many project activities worth mentioning is the Comenius school network, in which a large number of school classes all over Europe are working on projects related to MAR-ECO. We have engaged an author to write a children’s book for younger children. We are also working on setting up a touring exhibition of paintings by our ship’s artist Ørnulf Opdahl, pictures taken by our photographer David Shale and some of the scientific material itself. And our web-site is regularly updated with stories, pictures and video clips, so keep an eye on”, says Bergstad.

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