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.
“There is widespread consensus that biological components of seamounts are highly vulnerable and sensitive to human disturbance and exploitation. There are many aspects of seamount and deep-sea ecosystem structure and function that we do not understand.
“Priorities for science that can best inform management are at present to describe structural patterns over various spatial scales, rather than in-depth studies of a small number of seamounts”
From: Clark MR, et al (2012) Science Priorities for Seamounts: Research Links to Conservation and Management. PLoS ONE 7(1): e29232
A New Plan for Modeling Seamount Ecosystems
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.
The International Institute of Advanced Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria is a partner in the project, and will host the development of the new model on the institute’s supercomputing cluster.
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 visit 48 seamounts in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans – 16 seamounts in each region – over a period of about four years. Half of those surveyed will be replicated in second expeditions to generate temporal resolution over seasonal periods, and to facilitate installation and later retrieval of various sensors, resulting in a total of 36 expeditions.
A planning workshop will be hosted at Oxford University, Somerville College, in the near future to formulate a final research and modeling plan. The project is being organized around nine Working Groups (WGs) focusing on physical and biogeochemical factors (2 WGs), biology (6 WGs) and modeling (1 WG).
The biology working groups will focus on groupings that correspond approximately to trophic levels – a primary analytical component of the ecosystem model: phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, benthic habitats/invertebrates, and pelagic mega-fauna/mammals, and bacteria and viruses.
The project will rely heavily on ROV, AUV and towed sonar vehicle technologies for bathymetry, biological sampling, and visual documentation. Laboratory systems and instrumentation to support on-board genomics (e.g. RAD-Seq for assessing genetic connectivity), systematics, chemical analysis and data processing will be provided as well.
Arrangements are being established with technology and supply partners for these systems to ensure their availability during the intensive in-field phase of the project.
Global Oceans MARV Vessel Model
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 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 Seamount 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.
The Global Seamounts Project Science Advisory Committee
Alex Rogers, Ph.D. (Project Chair), Professor of Conservation Biology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK (Seamount biodiversity, ecology, evolution)
Malcolm Clark, Ph.D., (Project Co-Chair) Principal Scientist, National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Wellington, New Zealand (Seamount ecology and fisheries)
Ursula Scharler, Ph.D. (Project Co-Chair), Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa (Theoretical and applied ecology, systems analysis)
Bernd Christiansen, Ph.D., Professor, Institute of Hydrobiology and Fisheries Science, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany (Seamount food webs)
David Vousden, Ph.D., Professor of Ocean Governance, Rhodes University; Grahamstown, South Africa; United Nations Advisor on Ocean and Coastal Management (Ocean policy)
Patrick Halpin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Marine Geospatial Ecology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA (Marine geospatial analysis, remote sensing)
Tim O’Hara, Ph.D., Deputy Head, Marine Sciences, Museum of Victoria, Victoria, Australia (Seamount biogeography)
Javier Sellanes, Ph.D., Associate Researcher, Catholic University of the North, Chile (Ecology of benthic fauna on seamounts)
Brian D. Fath, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University, Maryland, USA (Systems ecology, network analysis, ecosystems ecology, sustainability and integrated environmental assessment)
Elena Rovenskaya, Ph.D., Program Director, Advanced Systems Analysis, International Institute of Advanced Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg, Austria (Agent-based modeling, systemic risks in ecological networks)
Paul Snelgrove, Ph.D., University Research Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland, Canada (Benthic, deep-sea and coral reef ecology)
Ben Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., Director, Oceanwise Australia, Perth, Australia; Member IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management (Demersal fish ecology)