UK MAR-ECO consortium project:
ECOMAR- Ecosystem of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at the Sub-Polar Front and Charlie Gibbs Fracture Zone.
£2 million pounds has been awarded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council for a four year consortium project led by Prof Monty Priede of Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen. The project will start 1 January 2007 and finish December 2010.
ECOMAR will be the UK contribution to MAR-ECO, and focuses on the central area in the region of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone. The major objective of ECOMAR will be the full integration of several marine science disciplines to provide a comprehensive overview of the functioning of the Mid-Atlantic ridge ecosystem in the vicinity of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone and the sub-polar front.
The project will include three cruises (6 weeks duration each) in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The first cruise will take place from the 13 July to 19 August 2007 on board the new Royal Research Ship James Cook.
Monty Priede University of Aberdeen
Phil Bagley University of Aberdeen
Nikki King University of Aberdeen
Alan Jamieson University of Aberdeen
Steve Groom Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Peter Miller Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Gavin Tilstone Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Victor Martinez-Vicente Plymouth Marine Laboratory
David Billett National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Brian Bett National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Alan Hughes National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Tammy Horton National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Jane Read National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Andrew Brierley University of St Andrews
Rus Hoelzel Durham University
Graham Shimmield Scottish Association for Marine Science
Mark Inall Scottish Association for Marine Science
Ben Wigham Dove Marine Laboratory, University of Newcastle
Official Summary on NERC application Form:
The ECOMAR project aims to make significant strides in increasing our knowledge of deep-sea communities and how they may be influenced by physical and environmental factors. Whilst the fauna of the continental margins and abyssal plains have been relatively well studied the ecosystem of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR) remains poorly understood. ECOMAR is a multi-disciplinary project that proposes for the first time to determine the local, regional and global ecological impact of the presence of the MAR as a physical structure. We aim to study the physical, chemical and biological environment of the MAR in terms of circulation, production, biomass and biodiversity.
The research will be focussed at four localities in the vicinity of the Charlie-Gibbs fracture zone (CGFZ), which coincide with the position of the sub-polar front. This will allow for comparisons to not only be made between varying regimes of surface productivity but also between the MAR and comparable sites on the continental margins and abyssal plains of both the East and West Atlantic basins. The MAR is a topographically difficult place to sample, which has no doubt contributed to the current lack of knowledge of this region. Therefore ECOMAR will employ the latest technologies to overcome this problem including precision acoustic sensors, instrumented moorings, autonomous lander vehicles, towed camera systems and the new 6,500m rated research ROV Isis. The first of three proposed cruises to the region will produce detailed bathymetric maps of the study sites to aid deployment of instrument moorings and sampling equipment. In addition intensive CTD sampling will be employed to characterise the circulation in the vicinity of the sub-polar front and provide calibration data for ongoing remote sensing research. The subsequent cruises will continue sampling programmes for pelagic biology using modern acoustic techniques as well as nets. In addition targeted benthic sampling and experimentation will take place using towed cameras and lander vehicles. Finally the ROV Isis will provide the means of documenting and sampling the fauna of the MAR in addition to taking precision samples for geochemical analysis.
The presence of the sub-polar front and influence of the North Atlantic current (NAC) provide for contrasting production regimes with cold, fresh and well stratified waters creating a biologically productive region to the north of the CGFZ. In contrast the waters to the south are warm, saline and less productive. The strength and position of the NAC will be monitored during the ECOMAR project to allow accurate estimates of export production to the benthos of the MAR. The use of remote sensing technologies, coupled with shipboard biological and physical measurements, will allow patterns of primary production over the MAR to be studied at higher spatial and temporal resolutions. By integrating satellite estimations of primary production with shipboard measurements estimates of export flux can be made and then compared with data from an array of four sediment trap moorings.
The supply of food to the deep-sea floor plays a major role in structuring benthic communities and driving rate processes such as reproduction, metabolism and activity. By measuring the composition and quantity of this material both as phytoplankton, zooplankton and sedimenting aggregates the ECOMAR project will be able to identify the driving forces behind observed patterns of abundance, biomass and diversity in the fauna of the MAR.
The MAR itself may be seen as a physical barrier dividing the Atlantic basin but in the vicinity of the ECOMAR study area the CGFZ provides a corridor for the passage of deep-water between the west and east Atlantic basins. The ECOMAR project will attempt to determine to what extent the MAR and the sub-polar front acts as boundaries to gene flow and to assess any influence of the CGFZ and the NAC on the genetic dispersal of organisms.
Abundant life on the Mid Atlantic Ridge as seen from an ROV