Friday, August 7, 2015

07/08/2015: Secrets of the deep sea to be unveiled by robots

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Robots have been custom built by scientists from the Oban-based Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) to explore the deepest parts of the ocean to discover details on how life is sustained in that environment.   
The research team will be led by Professor Ronnie Glud and SAMS will study and sample organisms in their own environment (in situ), thousands of metres below the surface.

These extreme regions of the ocean are known as 'hadal zones' and occur as a result of one tectonic plate sliding under another to form a deep trench in the seafloor. 

Three purpose-built robots are required for the Hades Project and will operate at depths of up to 11 kilometres. 

Previous expeditions led by Professor Glud have revealed notably high levels of biological activity at these depths. 

But how is life sustained in these extreme conditions? Furthermore, how does its activity affect the biogeochemical functioning of the oceans and the Earth? That's what the Hades Project aims to find out. 

"It is extremely difficult to investigate what actually happens in the extreme deep. Organisms that are removed from their natural extreme environment and studied in a laboratory will inevitably be affected – and potentially killed – by the large pressure difference during sample recovery. In on board laboratories researchers generally only study organisms that can withstand the recovery - and they are not necessarily the ones that are most important in the deep. It is therefore important to examine the organisms and their metabolic activity in that environment.”

The three trenches to be visited by the researchers are in the Pacific Ocean: the Atacama Trench off Chile (maximum depth 8068 metres), the Japan Trench south and east of Japan (maximum depth 9,504 metres) and the Kermadec Trench north of New Zealand (maximum depth 10,047 metres).

These three trenches have been selected due to the expectation that they receive very different amounts of organic matter (food), as a result of different nutrient conditions in the overlying surface waters and differences in physical-oceanographic conditions. 

It has been deemed necessary by the team to investigate more of the unexplored trenches and their specialised microbial communities in the hopes of understanding how organisms can function at such extreme pressures and what their role is in the global carbon cycle.

Dr Robert Turnewitsch, Principal Investigator in Marine Geochemistry at SAMS, said:

"This will be a very interesting challenge for all of us. Taking such comprehensive readings in situ has not been done before at these depths.

"The hadal zone is an extreme environment that hardly anyone has looked at, so there are many unknowns. The opportunity to work on a project like this is very exciting. I want to be surprised; I want to find something that challenges our views and perceptions of the deep sea and we now have a great opportunity to do that."

Read more HERE.

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