16 new papers describe discoveries at long-term deep-sea research site off California

June 16, 2020

MOSS LANDING, CA--For 30 years, MBARI ecologist Ken Smith and his colleagues have studied deep-sea communities at a research site called Station M, located 4,000 meters (2.5 miles) below the ocean's surface and 290 kilometers (180 miles) off the coast of Central California. A recent special issue of the journal Deep-Sea Research features 16 new papers about research at Station M by scientists from around the world. These papers cover a wide range of topics, from satellite observations of the sea surface to the behavior and genetics of deep-sea life.

The deep seafloor is one of the largest and least known habitats on this planet. The flat, muddy expanses of the deep ocean floor--known as the abyssal plain--cover more than 50 percent of Earth's surface and play a critical role in the Earth's carbon cycle. Scientists visit from time to time, but they rarely get to stay long. That's one reason why the long-term studies at Station M are so remarkable.

Animals on the deep seafloor get most of their food from the sunlit surface waters thousands of meters above. This food typically arrives in the form of marine snow--bits and pieces of dead algae or animals that sink to the muddy ocean bottom. This detritus carries carbon from the surface waters to the deep sea.

Because much of this carbon originates as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, sinking marine snow indirectly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and sequesters organic carbon in the deep ocean over geologic timescales.

Station M is the only deep-sea site in the world where scientists have conducted long-term, continuous measurements of both the supply of carbon to the seafloor and the consumption of this organic carbon by deep-sea animals and microbes.

Over the past three decades, Smith and his colleagues have developed and used a whole suite of oceanographic tools to study Station M. These include satellites, research ships, bottom trawls, human-occupied vehicles such as Alvin, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), a robotic seafloor rover, seafloor landers, coring devices, fish traps, sediment traps, respirometers (which measure oxygen consumption), current meters, and time-lapse cameras.

The underwater observatory at Station M includes instruments and robots that operate autonomously 24 hours a day, seven days a week. MBARI scientists only need to visit the site once a year to collect and download data, service instruments, and swap out batteries.

The results of this research have dramatically changed marine biologists' perceptions of life in the deep sea. For one thing, the data show that the deep seafloor is far from static--physical conditions and biological communities can change dramatically over time scales ranging from days to decades.

Research at Station M also confirmed that changes on the seafloor directly relate to conditions near the sea surface. For example, huge populations of algae or gelatinous animals such as salps may consume available nutrients and food in surface waters, then die and sink rapidly to the bottom. The resulting "blizzard" of detritus provides a feast for deep-seafloor organisms, allowing some species to reproduce and dominate seafloor communities--at least until most of the food is used up.

Such "feast and famine" cycles affect some seafloor animals more than others. For example, some species of sea cucumbers were rare at Station M in the 1990s, then became extremely abundant, and then disappeared entirely. Other sea cucumbers had relatively stable populations throughout the 30-year study.

The 16 research papers in the special edition of Deep-Sea Research cover these topics and many more. Two of the papers focus on connections between processes at the sea surface and the amount of carbon reaching the deep seafloor. Three papers examine the types and amounts of material sinking down through the water. Two other papers describe changes in the chemical and biological conditions on the seafloor. The remaining nine papers describe animals and microbes living on and near the seafloor and how these organisms respond to changes in their environment.

The papers in this volume provide an overview of ongoing research at Station M and show how this research has improved scientists' understanding of the biogeochemistry, biology, and ecosystems on the deep seafloor. As human impacts in the ocean become more pervasive, research at Station M and at similar sites around the world are essential to understanding this vast but little-studied environment. Long-term studies such as the Station M time series are also essential for understanding long-term changes in the ocean and in Earth's climate.

Smith and his research team hope to continue their work at Station M to find out if the surprising changes in seafloor communities will continue. They will also be developing new technologies that will allow researchers to monitor conditions at Station M from shore in real time.
Link to online news release with images: https://www.mbari.org/station-m-discoveries/

Link to special issue of Deep-Sea Research: https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/deep-sea-research-part-ii-topical-studies-in-oceanography/vol/173/suppl/C

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Related Carbon Articles from Brightsurf:

The biggest trees capture the most carbon: Large trees dominate carbon storage in forests
A recent study examining carbon storage in Pacific Northwest forests demonstrated that although large-diameter trees (21 inches) only comprised 3% of total stems, they accounted for 42% of the total aboveground carbon storage.

Carbon storage from the lab
Researchers at the University of Freiburg established the world's largest collection of moss species for the peat industry and science

Carbon-carbon covalent bonds far more flexible than presumed
A Hokkaido University research group has successfully demonstrated that carbon-carbon (C-C) covalent bonds expand and contract flexibly in response to light and heat.

Metal wires of carbon complete toolbox for carbon-based computers
Carbon-based computers have the potential to be a lot faster and much more energy efficient than silicon-based computers, but 2D graphene and carbon nanotubes have proved challenging to turn into the elements needed to construct transistor circuits.

Cascades with carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide (CO(2)) is not just an undesirable greenhouse gas, it is also an interesting source of raw materials that are valuable and can be recycled sustainably.

Two-dimensional carbon networks
Lithium-ion batteries usually contain graphitic carbons as anode materials. Scientists have investigated the carbonic nanoweb graphdiyne as a novel two-dimensional carbon network for its suitability in battery applications.

Can wood construction transform cities from carbon source to carbon vault?
A new study by researchers and architects at Yale and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research predicts that a transition to timber-based wood products in the construction of new housing, buildings, and infrastructure would not only offset enormous amounts of carbon emissions related to concrete and steel production -- it could turn the world's cities into a vast carbon sink.

Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?

First fully rechargeable carbon dioxide battery with carbon neutrality
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.

How and when was carbon distributed in the Earth?
A magma ocean existing during the core formation is thought to have been highly depleted in carbon due to its high-siderophile (iron loving) behavior.

Read More: Carbon News and Carbon Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.