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Welcome to the Deep Sea!

You have now descended nearly 400 meters to reach the seafloor...

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Although this habitat covers nearly two thirds of Earth's surface, the deep sea still remains largely unknown. This is in major part due to the great cost and complexity associated with sampling at these extensive depths. However, our reach into these distant habitats has greatly increased with the deployment of scientific instruments connected to the NEPTUNE Canada cabled observatory. Now, in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Colombia, a team of scientists is working intensively at improving our current knowledge of deep-sea benthic ecosystems.

But why study distant ecosystems sparsely populated by small strange critters? There are two compelling reasons: the benthos is vastly important and it has retained its mystery.

Importance of the Benthos

The deep sea's contributions to the rest of the planet might be more important than we realize...

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For example, some deep-sea animals feed on organic matter that accumulates on the sediments. This organic matter originated as living organisms at the ocean's surface, which, when dead, sink to the bottom. Without animals regularly turning over these deposits (an action called bioturbation), this organic matter would stay buried in sediments for extended periods of time. Hence, deposit-feeding critters (such as sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and certain gastropod species) are believed to play an important role in nutrient cycling and regulating sediment composition (Meysman et al. 2006).

Mysteries of the Benthos

As you might have noticed, the previous paragraph was written in rather hypothetical terms. This is mostly due to the fact that we presently know so little about the deep sea...

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This dearth of knowledge drives scientists to study the deep-ocean more thoroughly. As sampling these habitats was previously a complex and expensive proposition, it was not done regularly. Consequently, our current knowledge of the seafloor's baseline state is very limited. Since we do not really know what can be considered "normal" in these habitats, it is very difficult to know when significant changes occur. With the threats to our oceans (e.g. climate change, oxygen depletion, ocean acidification) as well as increased human disturbances (e.g. deep-water trawling, mineral extraction and pollution), it becomes crucial to understand how our actions impact these ecosystems (Koslow, 2007). This is the first step toward ensuring their protection.

About Me:

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Katleen Robert

I am a Master's student in the department of biology at the University of Victoria, BC. My research focuses on the use of remotely operated cameras to study deep-sea ecology. I am particularly interested in looking at the abundance and activity rhythms of the denizens of the deep. If you have joined in one of our streaming black and white video session, I am usually the one operating the camera. And we now have met.

About this Blog

With this new blog, I intend to explore seafloor science off Canada's west coast within the larger context of deep-sea ecology studies worldwide. NEPTUNE Canada provides a wealth of real-time data; and this information is freely-available to everyone anywhere in the world. As such, I will introduce some of the questions currently under investigation in the hopes of exchanging ideas with blog readers.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    So true. Honesty and everything recogniezd.

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