international exploratory study of the macrofauna of the northern
mid-Atlantic Ocean including the processes that control their
distribution and community structures in the waters around the
Odd Aksel Bergstad, Institute of Marine Research, Flodevigen Marine
Research Station, His, Norway
oceans - what exists there?
- What roles do mid-ocean ridge
systems play in the world's oceans?
- How can we conduct
research in such an extreme environment?
- How can we ensure
sustainable development for the future?
interest is being focused on regions of the world's oceans that have
thus far remained relatively unexplored. Deep ocean features attracting
particular attention include seamounts and ridge systems. They are
interesting because they may influence ocean circulation patterns. They
may thus affect the distribution patterns of marine life forms.
are posing questions such as: do ridges and seamounts have their own
characteristic faunas, or is this fauna related to adjacent coastal
fauna, which has migrated into deeper waters using the seamounts and
ridges as "stepping stones"? Do ridges and seamounts significantly
influence processes such as intercontinental migration and dispersion?
is a need for more information about these areas and the life-forms
living there, not the least because there are strong economic forces
that are driving commercial interests to find new resources to exploit.
Before extensive fishing gets underway, with its inherent potential for
irreparable damage to the ecosystem, researchers need to learn more.
Better knowledge is critical for the sustainable management of the ridge
and deep ocean resources.
The MAR-ECO Project is part of a
ten-year global programme to explore the world's oceans entitled, the
Census of Marine Life. MAR-ECO aims to describe and understand the
patterns of distribution, abundance and the trophic relationships among
the organisms inhabiting the waters over and around the mid-Atlantic
Ridge. It also aims to identify and model the ecological processes that
cause variability in these patterns. The project will chiefly focus on
fish, crustaceans, cephalopods, and gelatinous plankton and other
actively swimming organisms, but there will also be some focus on top
predators such as seabirds and cetaceans, which interact with the more
The project also aims to share the
results of the research exploration with the general public and has
begun public outreach initiatives including a web site, school project,
ship-to-shore communication, documentary film, video shorts, exhibition
ideas and a book project. A well-known Norwegian artist has expressed
interest in participating in the project, which gives it a unique
interdisciplinary art/science dimension.
MAR-ECO faces severe
technological challenges. Data collection and observation at great
depths and in rugged terrain are difficult. The project will adapt and
modify modern remote sensing technology (acoustics, optics) that will be
carried on advanced instrument systems (e.g., towed vehicles, ROVs,
AUVs etc.). Many different international technology companies are
working in collaboration with researchers to develop and test
state-of-the-art equipment that will rise to these challenges. This new
technology will also be able to be used in a number of other
The study area includes the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and
the adjacent waters from the Azores to Iceland. Research expeditions
will survey much of the area using acoustic studies and mid-water
trawling. Three sub- areas have been selected for more intensive
sampling and observation by traditional and novel methods and
The project's field season extends from 2003-2005
and involves a number of research cruises including Iceland (June
2003), the Russian MIR submersibles (summer 2003), the new Norwegian
research vessel, G.O. Sars (summer 2004), a Portuguese Navy vessel (date
to be announced) and possibly UK, German and Irish research cruises.
period 2004-2008 will be an analytical phase. Data will also be
submitted to the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), which is
the information component of the Census of Marine Life.
information learned concerning exploited resources and biodiversity will
be of immediate value to global advisory authorities such as ICES,
OSPAR and others, and is critical to ensuring sustainable development of
the oceanic environment in the future.
Visit the MAR-ECO