Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

First cold water coral ecosystem discovered off the coast of Mauritania

12.11.2010
From previous research projects, Professor André Freiwald, head of the marine research department (Senckenberg am Meer, Wilhelmshaven) already had an idea of the extent of the cold water coral bank which, on the basis of previous knowledge, was located unusually far to the south.

Now the Senckenberg scientist reports from on board the Maria S. Merian research ship that the first cold water coral reef with living animals has been discovered off the coast of Mauritania. In the middle of the enormous rock formation of the undersea canyon area, the scientists also stumbled across the giant deep sea oyster, a Methuselah among sea creatures.


Young Lophelia colony with outstretched polyps at a depth of 590 m
Tomas Lundälv, Sven Lovén Centre, University of Gothenburg


Octocoral colony with giant clams on a dead Lophelia coral colony at a depth of 615 m
Tomas Lundälv, Sven Lovén Centre, University of Gothenburg

The coral wall on the continental shelf off the coast of Mauritania measures 50 to 60 m high and is 190 km long. When the Swedish robot pilot Tomas Lundälv of the Sven Lovén Centre of the University of Gothenburg set down a diving robot on the seafloor at a depth of 615 m, the scientist on board the research ship found himself via a video link in the middle of a flourishing coral ecosystem.

André Freiwald reports on a heavily calcified Lophelia coral with orange-red polyps and gorgonias, which, beside the reef-building stony corals, formed imposing octocoral gardens in the dark and otherwise inaccessible habitat. According to the excited expedition report, giant clams also hang on the coral galleries, in exactly the same way as is found elsewhere in Norwegian reef systems.

Such impressive ecosystems were previously only known above all from regions of the sea located much further to the north, around Scandinavia and in the Irish Sea. Unlike their tropical relatives, found by snorkellers and scuba divers in the illuminated and significantly warmer surface waters, cold water corals live at a cold 13° in the dark and nutrient-rich deep sea region below 200 m. André Freiwald was aware of a loose cold water coral reef which extends to southern regions. Until now, however, scientists had only found fossil coral reef structures on the seafloor off the coast of Gibraltar and Morocco.

While the Maria S. Merian, equipped with a dynamic positioning system, accompanied the diving robot step by step, the on-board coral team followed the exploratory dive, around 60 km west of Cape Tamirist, which took them into absolutely uncharted waters. Meter by meter, the device worked its way up the slope following a navigation chart drawn up by the Senckenberg scientist, Dr. Lydia Beuck, when at a depth of approximately 500 m, the coral group discovered further Lophelia colonies in a bizarre rock formation which nevertheless have a significantly more fragile development of calcification. In his report, André Freiwald writes that at the same time, the diversity of sponges and large crustaceans at the location increased significantly. Among other things, the scientists found the powerful carrier crab Paromola here, and on diving through the rocky landscape, also found the giant deep sea oyster Neopycnodonte, also never before observed so far to the south. These giant oysters form thick populations and can be described as Methuselahs among animals, with some individuals living for over 500 years.

For the scientists on board the Maria S. Merian, the discovery of the ecosystem with living cold water corals came as a surprise. André Freiwald sees one reason for the southern occurrence of the anthozoans which are adapted to cold temperatures in the upwelling ocean cells steered by the Passat wind. The offshore winds push the surface waters from the Mauritanian cliffs out into the open ocean and thereby permit a following flow of cold and nutrient-rich water from the depths. This evidently not only ensures that the Mauritanian waters are among the richest of any in fish but also presumably also provides the cold water corals with appropriate feed. According to statements by coral experts, the marine creatures feed on the nutrients released by plankton organisms.

The 16th research voyage with the Maria S. Merian, under the leadership of Professor Hildegard Westphal from the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, ends on 20 November in Mindelo (Cape Verde). Until then, it will stop at and chart further parts of the coral system in the canyon of the continental shelf off the coast of Mauritania. André Freiwald expects the next dives on this expedition to provide information as to whether the newly discovered ecosystem represents a single structure or whether a spatially extended living reef province exists in the southern waters.

The samples documented and permanently fixed during the voyage by Dr. Claudia Wienberg (MARUM, University of Bremen) and the Italian expert on corals, Dr. Marco Taviani (CNR-ISMAR, Bologna) will then be further investigated in the home laboratories. (dve)

Doris von Eiff | idw
Further information:
http://www.senckenberg.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'
23.01.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant
23.01.2018 | Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Optical Nanoscope Allows Imaging of Quantum Dots

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'

23.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Transportable laser

23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>