OS3.4/EG9Deep Sea Frontier - A European Challenge (co-organized)
|Convener: Achim Kopf | Co-Conveners: Timothy Ferdelman , Heiko Pälike , Antje Boetius|
Although it covers vast expanses of the Earth, the floor of the deep-sea has been mapped less than the surface of Mars. Only in recent decades have we begun to really explore it, and just now we acknowledge the emerging goal to coordinate research efforts on an international level comprehensively. What now (i.e. within the next decade, or framework program for that matter) seems to be required is to establish a long-lived research approach that considers (i) the sustainable management of the ocean, and particularly the deep-sea with enhanced activity (fishery, hydrocarbon exploration), (ii) the necessity to unravel deep-seated geological processes that drive seafloor ecosystems, and (iii) the value of seabed archives for the reconstruction of paleo-environmental conditions and the improved prediction of future climate change. Such a research approach has to fully comply with the needs of society, policymakers and industry and should lead to a sustainable use of the oceans and a Maritime Policy on a European, if not global level.
From an academic standpoint, the key aspects to be offered to industry and society with regard to the above are know-how transfer and joint ventures concerning state-of-the-art seagoing technology to industry, and equally provision of research results from fields of either direct commercial interest (microbiology, hydrothermal ore deposition, etc.) or processes indirectly linked given their hazard potential with time (climate change, submarine landslides, tsunamis, etc.). In any case, both deep-sea exploration and sub-seafloor drilling/sampling by academia can provide two key components in understanding how deep-sea ecosystems function at present, and how they will respond to global change and affect mankind:
(a) an inventory of present deep-sea and subsurface processes and biospheres, and their links to surface ecosystems, including seafloor observation and baseline studies, and
(b) a high resolution archive of past variations in environmental conditions and biodiversity. For both components, an international effort is needed to share knowledge, methods and technologies, including mission-specific operations to increase the efficiency, coverage and accuracy of sub-seafloor sampling and exploration (e.g. by tying efforts by the EC and IODP/ECORD).
The deep biosphere has been discovered only within the past two decades and comprises the last major frontier for biological exploration. We lack fundamental knowledge of composition, diversity, distribution and metabolism in sub-seafloor biological communities at Earth’s extremes, and their repercussions on seafloor ecosystems and life in the deep-sea. There is equally an emerging need to shed light on geodynamic processes fuelling biological activity, and how such processes tie into the emission of geofuels and the formation of hydrocarbons, minerals and other resources. In addition, geodynamic processes may cause natural hazards such as earthquake slip, submarine landslides, or tsunamis with a profound effect for humans and ecosystems. Their governing principles and potential triggers are poorly understood, but pose a major threat on both deep-sea ecosystems and mankind either relying on the deep-sea goods (e.g. seafood, bioactive molecules, oil, gas and minerals) or settling along the coast (i.e. >60% of the global population live within the marginal 50 km of the continents).
Cross-disciplinary research has to underpin Europe’s emerging Marine Strategy and Maritime Policy by addressing aspects such as (i) the legal framework related to marine resources (relatively straightforward for hydrocarbons or minerals, but incredibly complex for microbial medical products, etc.), (ii) socio-economic consequences of their exploitation, and (iii) territorial aspects in the deep-sea, to name just a few. Given the overall cost of seagoing operations and societal demand to exploit the ocean (fishery, minerals, transport, etc.), a synergetic approach across disciplines and borders – potentially tied to larger integrated projects – has to follow.