“There are many aspects of seamount and deep-sea ecosystem structure and function that we do not understand, and which may in the long-term be critical for effective management. However, research is in many respects still at the stage of describing the composition and structure of seamount habitat and communities, and appreciating complex functional processes is still a long way in the future.”
From: Clark MR, et al (2012) Science Priorities for Seamounts: Research Links to Conservation and Management. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29232
Seamounts worldwide are increasingly being exploited with unsustainable and destructive fishing practices, they are targeted for future seabed mining, and they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially from ocean acidification and warming seas.
Global Oceans, together with zoologist and conservation biologist Alex Rogers, PhD, at the University of Oxford, and an advisory committee of leading seamount and modeling scientists, is developing a new multi-year global expedition and research strategy designed to accelerate our understanding of complex ecosystem function and inter-connectivity on seamounts.
The project will generate a new biophysical model to dynamically predict the behavior of seamount ecosystems under multiple environmental and human impact scenarios – based on initial states of, and changes in, biodiversity, biomass, species abundance, benthic habitat, trophic structure and other factors.
MODELING SEAMOUNT ECOSYSTEMS
From the initial design phase, this project is bringing together scientists from the seamount research community with experts in complex systems and ecosystem modeling, to define the scope, resolution and types of data needed as inputs into the model. From these data parameters, a field research plan is being developed with methods, technologies, equipment and operational support that will be needed.
A primary objective of the project is to establish standardized sampling and analysis protocols that can be mapped to each studied system from on-site bathymetry, and efficiently and cost-effectively replicated and inter-calibrated across a sufficient number of seamounts.
The project currently plans to study seamounts in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans over about four years. A sub-set of those surveyed will be replicated in multiple expeditions to generate temporal resolution over seasonal periods, and to facilitate installation and later retrieval of various sensors.
A planning workshop will be hosted in the near future to formulate a final research and modeling plan. The project is being organized around nine Working Groups focusing on physical and biogeochemical factors, biology and ecosystem modeling.
The project will rely heavily on ROV, AUV and towed sonar vehicle technologies for bathymetry, biological sampling, and visual documentation. Modular laboratory workspace and instrumentation to support on-board genomics (e.g. RAD-Seq for assessing genetic connectivity), systematics, chemical analysis and data processing will be integrated on each project MARV.
ROLE OF MARV DEPLOYMENTS
The ability to deploy the large number of scientific, Global-Class manned research platforms suitable for open ocean and deep-sea work on seamounts that will be required to achieve this will be accomplished through the utilization of the MARV vessel model, possibly supplemented with participation from research vessels operated by collaborating academic institutions.
The use of time-chartered, science-adapted commercial sector platforms for research (MARVs) removes a significant constraint on such a project – sufficient physical capacity to mobilize large and sophisticated scientific instruments and vehicles, on large vessel platforms, where and when they are required, within an intensive, compressed deployment schedule.
The intention with this project is to leverage the collaborative, organizational and scientific framework developed and put into practice by the recently completed CenSeam initiative; focusing on lessons learned from that study to design an integrated set of sampling and analytical strategies that will more effectively fill key spatial, ecological, taxonomic and disciplinary data gaps; across geographically representative and understudied regions.
The operational framework being developed by Global Oceans will also facilitate an administratively lean and cost-efficient organizational structure for the project.
Alex Rogers, Ph.D., Chair, Global Seamount Project Science Committee; Professor, Conservation Biology, University of Oxford, UK. Alex Rogers is an expert on deep-sea ecosystems and cold-water corals.
Normally we develop a network analysis for ecosystems with existing data sets, many of which are estimates. The Global Seamounts Project takes an approach that brings these two activities together at the planning phase. This strategy, to align data gathered from the project from the outset, at sufficient resolution and scale, with collaborative modelling efforts focused on answering key questions, is very unique and will be extremely valuable for considerably increasing our predictive capability and understanding of these systems.
Ursula Scharler, Ph.D., Global Seamount Project Co-Chair; Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. Ursula Scharler specializes in theoretical and applied ecology.