Deepsea Challenger during a test drive.
Credit: UCSD/ Photo by Charlie Arneson

 

Vibrant Mix of Sea Life at Extreme Depths

Source: Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San Diego press release

Extreme Life
Posted: 02/26/13

Summary: The first results from a record-setting expedition into the world’s deepest points, including the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, has revealed previously unexplored ecosystems in the cold, dark, and highly pressurized depths.

The first scientific examinations of data recorded during a record-setting expedition have yielded new insights about the diversity of creatures that live and thrive in the cold, dark, and highly pressurized habitats of the world’s deepest points and their vastly unexplored ecosystems.

Natalya Gallo of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego presented preliminary findings from the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition, a project led by James Cameron in collaboration with Scripps, and supported by National Geographic and Rolex, on Feb. 22 at the 2013 Aquatic Sciences Meeting of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography in New Orleans.

Gallo, a graduate student with biological oceanographer Lisa Levin’s group, analyzed 25 hours of video captured during Cameron’s historic March 26, 2012, solo dive 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) below the ocean surface to the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, as well as separate dives (also during the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition) to the New Britain Trench and Ulithi, also in the Pacific Ocean. The footage was taken from five cameras equipped on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible that Cameron piloted to the Challenger Deep. Additional footage came from specialized “lander” deep ocean vehicles developed in collaboration with Scripps engineer Kevin Hardy that captured samples at various depths.

Early results of Gallo’s analysis reveal a vibrant mix of organisms, different in each trench site. The Challenger Deep featured fields of giant single-cell amoebas called “xenophyophores,” sea cucumbers, and enormous shrimp-like crustaceans called amphipods. The New Britain Trench featured hundreds of stunning stalked anemones growing on pillow lavas at the bottom of the trench, as well as a shallower seafloor community dominated by spoon worms, burrowing animals that create a rosette around them by licking organic matter off the surrounding sediment with a tongue-like proboscis. In contrast, Ulithi’s seafloor ecosystem in the Pacific atolls featured high sponge and coral biodiversity.

Read more: Vibrant Mix of Sea Life at Extreme Depths — Astrobiology Magazine.

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