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Abyss 2100: Total Foundation Supports Deep-Sea Research

09 January 2009

09 January 2009

Scientists from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, are set to explore how deep-sea organisms and communities will cope with climate change with a generous gift from the Total Foundation.

The group of deep-sea biologists is led by evolutionary ecologist Dr Sven Thatje of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science based at the National Oceanography Centre. The group has been awarded approximately £380,000 by the Total Foundation (‘Fondation Total') to study the physiology of life from abyssal depths, using cutting-edge and unique infrastructure. For the first time, UK researchers will be able to combine the use of remotely operated vehicles, the sampling of deep-sea organisms under pressures at which they live, and high-pressure aquaria at sea.

Named ‘Abyss 2100', the project is concerned with the challenges that life in the deep ocean will face by 2100 and beyond as a result of man-made global climate change, such as climate warming, and likely increased acidity of the sea.

“We now have the tools needed to explain how the physiology of deep-sea organisms under in situ conditions may be affected by future climate change”, says Dr Thatje: “Extraordinarily little is known about the physiology of animals living at great depths, which inhabit two third of planet Earth. Only a handful of scientific organizations worldwide possess the technology for tackling this difficult task, and even fewer institutions have succeeded in pulling together the necessary infrastructure and expertise.”

“It is essential for understanding better the future of the largest ecosystem on Earth that we mobilize the necessary scientific expertise and rare and expensive prototype infrastructure in international cooperation”, adds Dr Bruce Shillito, head of the deep-sea group at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris.

The Total Foundation is dedicated to the study of marine biodiversity. The Foundation has identified the crucial funding gap that exists in the use of prototype cutting-edge technology in biodiversity research.

The Foundation will fund Abyss 2100 over for three years, enabling the French-British team to take forward this exciting area of research in joint seagoing cruises to the North Atlantic, including the study of hydrothermal vent sites, as well as chemosynthetic environments in the Southern Ocean.

The first cruise participation is scheduled for June/July 2009 onboard RSS James Cook to the deep-sea Whittard Canyon in the Bay of Biscay. During this multidisciplinary cruise, which part of the National Oceanography Centre's OCEANS 2025 programme, the scientists will study the canyon geology and biology, with the overarching aim of understanding the operation of the canyon ecosystem.