Imagine descending in a submarine to the ice-cold, ink-black depths of the ocean, 800 metres under the surface of the Atlantic. Here the tops of the hills are covered in large coral reefs. NIOZ-researcher Furu Mienis studied the formation of these unknown cold-water relatives of the better-known tropical corals.
Furu Mienis studied the development of carbonate mounds dominated by cold-water corals in the Atlantic Ocean at depths of six hundred to a thousand metres. These reefs can be found along the eastern continental slope from Morocco to Norway, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and on the western continental slope along the east coast of Canada and the United States. Mienis studied the area to the west of Ireland along the edges of the Rockall Trough.
In her research Mienis analysed environmental factors like temperature, current speed and flow direction of seawater as these determine the growth of cold-water corals and the carbonate mounds. The measurements were made using bottom landers, observatories placed on the seabed from the NIOZ oceanographic research vessel 'Pelagia' and brought back to the surface a year later.
Food highways down to the deep
Cold-water corals are mainly found on the tops of carbonate mounds in areas where the current is high due to strong internal waves. These waves are caused by tidal currents and lead to an increase in local turbulence that results in the seawater being strongly mixed in a vertical direction. The outcome is the creation of a kind of highway between the nutrient-rich, sunlit zone at the sea surface and the deep, dark strata where the 380 metre-high tops of the mounds are found. This allows the cold-water corals to feed on algae and zooplankton that live in the upper layers of the sea. Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata are the most important coral species found on the European continental slopes.
How the carbonate mounds were form
|Contact: Dr. Furu Mienis|
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research