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Reykjavik 2007

Meeting on the Ridge!

The last weekend in September, around 50 MAR-ECO participants met in Rekjavik, Iceland for their annual meeting. They were warmly welcomed by the Icelandic participants led by Dr. Olafur S. Astthorsson from the Marine Research Institute of Iceland.


In addition to three intense days of meetings, Astthorsson arranged for a reception hosted by the Fisheries Ministry in a local museum. Here participants learned more about some unique Icelandic treasures. First was an interactive exhibition about the newest volcanic island, Surtsey: only 40 years old, it is designated as a natural laboratory and scientists have a unique opportunity to watch the process of natural succession. This was followed by a tour through an exhibition of an amazing collection of ancient medieval manuscripts recounting Norwegian and Icelandic sagas about ancient kings and heroes dating from the 12th century.

Objectives and goals 
The goals of the annual project meetings are to encourage the exchange of information between and within project sub-groups. As always, participants are reminded to keep in mind the original objectives:

MAR-ECO aims to describe and understand the patterns of distribution, abundance and trophic relationships of the organisms inhabiting the mid-oceanic North Atlantic and to identify and model the ecological processes that may cause variability in these patterns. As one of the pilot CoML projects, it also aims to develop technologies and methodologies that can be applied to other research projects and situations. Some of these latter have been applied to ECOMAR, the current British contribution to MAR-ECO and will be used if efforts are successful in extending MAR-ECO to include the southern Atlantic Ridge.

Concretely, MAR-ECO is trying to access the effect of a massive geological feature, such as the mid-Atlantic Ridge, on an oceanic system. The project addresses three major tasks:
(1) mapping species composition and distribution patterns
(2) describing the trophic interrelationships (food web)
(3) describing life history strategies

Progress on project tasks
MAR-ECO participants have made the most progress with task one. Most of the work sorting and identifying the three major taxonomic groups (fish, cephalopods and zooplankton) has been completed. There has been a bottleneck in the zooplankton work because there are not enough experts and the work is time consuming. During the meeting the group discussed the possibility of holding further workshops where researchers could analyse the (remaining) zooplankton samples from both the GOSars and recent ECOMAR cruises. There remain a few taxonomic “puzzles” and studentships are available to tackle these for interested masters, PhD and post-doc students.

Attention is now being focused on task two, describing the trophic interrelationships among the organisms in this ecosystem. Greater communication of results between the project sub-groups will be necessary in order to develop complete descriptions and models. Pelagic nekton expert, Tracey Sutton, underlined that leg one of the GOSars cruise was particularly good for pelagic sampling both in terms of type of sampling and breadth of gear and provided a relatively good picture of the ecosystem at this time. One of the limitations about the MAR-ECO data is that it provides a snapshot of this ecosystem – information about what was there on a particular summer day in 2004.

Some work has been done on task three. The work from ECOMAR will provide more data about processes and more seasonal information from its moored landers. There are four landers currently collected data. They will be collected next summer. MAR-ECO had one 12-month lander giving seasonal acoustic results.

Being a MAR-ECO student
MAR-ECO has made a significant contribution to training the next generation of scientisits. There have been many studentships since the project began in 2001.

All together there have been four completed and eight in progess PhDs, nine completed and six in progress masters and four completed bachelor’s students. There have even been a number of bachelor students. All sub-groups reported more possible student projects for the remaining period. In addition to many specialised workshops, which have involved student participation, there have been a number of mini-courses. The latest was this past June at Espegrend Marine Research Station in western Norway. (learn about two possible masters projects)

Results thus far
The results for all species studied are showing a clear difference of low diversity and high biomass north of the sub-Polar Front and high diversity, low biomass, south. A new finding was the high abundance and biomass of organisms in the benthipelagic zone (the zone near to the sea-floor). This may be correlated to the presence of the Ridge.

More information can still be gleaned from the acoustic data. Researchers are working to improve interpretation techniques and to better document specific organism signatures. The results of the ECOMAR long-term moorings currently functioning near the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone are awaited with great anticipation.

There have been a number of scientific publications of MAR-ECO work. Early in the new year two special issues of marine biology journals (Deep Sea Research II and Marine Biology Research) will be devoted to articles by MAR-ECO authors. In addition, there are numerous products from Public Outreach including: 2 DVDs, a Jazz CD, more pictures by David Shale, sculptures, postcards, and a travelling exhibition.

More field work
MAR-ECO has been extremely fortunate that the British partners have been awarded significant funding for a series of three successive summer cruises to the mid-Atlantic Ridge. As a result of the preliminary MAR-ECO results showing the discontinuity in population profiles north and south of the sub-Polar Front, ECOMAR is going to focus on this region. Despite being plagued with poor weather and some equipment problems, the ECOMAR team made an impressive start during this summer’s cruise.

Highlights include a fabulous mapping and physical oceanography effort. This data is essential to a complete understanding of the oceanic ecosystem. One interesting result is that tidal currents create small vertical movements that in turn carry small temperature changes, which may be important for the layering of organisms in the water column.

The trawling time was limited as time was required for the detailed mapping necessary to find suitable locations. Researchers had to prioritise trawling depths with high biomass as shown on the acoustic display. Hopefully this can be fleshed out with addition trawling depths on future cruises.

Future activities
Researchers are now compiling their results, bringing together the results of task one to provide a more complete picture of the oceanic ecosystem (task two). The findings thus far will be tested, supplemented and hopefully supported by ongoing work in ECOMAR. Efforts are being undertaken to put together another MAR-ECO initiative in the southern Atlantic. Finally, working groups have been formed to pull together the results into a coherent synthesis for inclusion in the Census of Marine Life’s (CoML) programme synthesis for 2010.
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