A group of acclaimed scientists will set out this Sunday for a 12-day expedition to unlock the secrets of a deep ocean gorge the size of the Grand Canyon, aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor.
The team headed by University of Western Australia’s Professor Malcolm McCulloch, together with researchers from other institutions in Australia and Italy will be among the first to explore life in the vast Perth Canyon, about 50km off Fremantle, Australia.
The underwater canyon formed over tens of millions of years and extends from the continental shelf edge of Western Australia to depths of more than four kilometres to the abyssal sea floor. Major upswelling of essential nutrients in the canyon makes it a global marine hotspot, attracting blue whales and other large fauna that migrate to the waters seasonally to feed. Despite being so close to Perth and Fremantle, little is known about life in its deep abyss.
Researchers will use a deep-diving remotely operated vehicle (ROV) with live-streaming to discover and collect deep-sea corals and sea water from the canyon. Chemical and biological analyses of these rare samples will provide critical new data about the canyon’s marine ecosystems. This will help determine the likely future impacts of warming seas and ocean acidification on the deep-sea life and waters in these remote and previously inaccessible habitats.
Professor McCulloch is excited about the ROV exploration, which had never before been carried out in this location before, making it a voyage of genuine discovery. “The Perth Canyon is a great unknown. It is the largest submarine canyon along Australia’s shelf, yet has never been subject to rigorous scientific investigation” Professor McCulloch said.
Despite the challenges of exploration in such remote environments, it was important to research such habitats because of their key role in the Earth’s climate system and in supplying the essential nutrients to sustain life in the oceans. The team hopes to answer the larger question of how animals that calcify skeletons like corals, are likely to be affected under future climate change scenarios, and the ability of the deeper oceans to more permanently sequester rapidly rising levels of atmospheric CO2.
“We hope to not only reveal the ocean’s living treasures, but also to establish how critical seawater parameters necessary to sustain life are changing due to the combined forces of ocean warming and CO2-driven ocean acidification,” he said.
Besides giving researchers the chance to better understand the Perth Canyon, the work should also help to better understand the likely threats to other deep ecosystems in the region and similar environments worldwide. Live ROV dives will be streamed and updates provided on the Schmidt Ocean Institute website schmidtocean.org. Photos also available online or by request to firstname.lastname@example.org.