ECOMAR is a 2 million UK project aimed at understanding how physical and biogeochemical factors influence the distributions and structure of deep-sea communities, focusing on the fauna of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Figure 1: The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, North Atlantic Ocean. The map shows a central box where the ECOMAR research is focused. The three shaded boxes are the study areas of the MAR-ECO project.

The project is focusing it's sampling on four sites in different environmental settings. The four sites are located on either side of the MAR and to the north and south of the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone (CGFZ).

Figure 2: A close up of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge around the region of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone (CGFZ). There are two sampling sites to the north and two to the south of the CGFZ.

The Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone coincides with the position of the sub-polar front in the North Atlantic Ocean, where there is warm, oligotrophic (nutrient poor) water to the south, and cold, eutrophic (nutrient rich) water to the north. The cold surface waters to the north are more productive, therefore there is a higher food supply available for organisms living on the deep-sea floor. Using these localities we are investigating the effects of topography and currents on the distribution of the fauna, as well as the effects of varying organic input (food supply) to the deep-sea floor in two different biogeochemical settings.

Figure 3: A close up of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge around the region of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone (CGFZ), with a generalised surface hydrography and the position of water masses superimposed above.

The overall objectives of ECOMAR between 2007 - 2011 are 1) to determine the local and regional impact of the MAR as a physical structure on the ecology of the North Atlantic Basin in terms of production, biomass and biodiversity from the surface to the deep-sea benthos and 2) to use these data to infer the effects of mid ocean ridges on the global ocean.

ECOMAR is a NERC funded element of MAR-ECO : a field project of the Census of Marine Life.

ECOMAR work packages

ECOMAR is split into six different work packages managed by seven different UK research institutes, the contributions and study areas of which are summarised below. Partner profiles and staff members can be viewed within the consortium pages.

The main goals of the ECOMAR consortium are described below:

  • Describe the physical flow regimes, both at the surface and the seafloor, across four sites located either side of the sub-polar front, with reference to their specific role in mixing nutrients and influencing the down-ward transport of organic carbon.
  • By remote sensing, appropriately calibrated by in situ incubations, produce regional estimates of surface primary production and likely export flux over the study area.
  • Measure the export flux of organic matter to the seafloor using sediment trap moorings located at each of the four study sites.
  • Compare the distribution and abundance of pelagic biomass in relation to the position of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at either side of the Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone and to the accompanying varying regimes of primary production encountered either side of the Sub-Polar Front.
  • Measure benthic biodiversity and biomass comparing species composition with similar depths at East and West Atlantic margins using traps, suspended camera systems, landers, and targeted ROV-based survey and sampling.
  • Assess the possible boundaries to gene flow at the MAR and Sub-Polar Front and also the genetic population structure of target species in comparison with the East and West Atlantic margins. Representative vertebrate and invertebrate species with different life histories will be compared to test hypotheses about the relationship between MAR ecology, physical oceanographic factors and genetic dispersal.