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Under the Sea: What the Bottom of the Atlantic Ocean Tells Us about Volcanos and Biodiversity

Scientists embarked on a four-week expedition on the Atlantic Ocean on the FS METEOR, taking them from Panama to Cape Verde. Their ocean blog will convey first-hand impressions from the two sub-projects ‘Bright Flows’ and ‘Deep Microbes’.

An interdisciplinary research team comprising biologists and geoscientists from Cologne, Vienna, Kiel and Oldenburg embarked on two parallel expeditions on the research ship FS METEOR from Panama on 8 July 2017. The scientists hope to gain new insights into the turbulent history of the Atlantic Ocean and its smallest inhabitants by analysing water samples from the ocean floor and the deepest water layers. Their online blog ‘Deep-Sea Microbial Food Webs and Volcanism in the Atlantic Ocean’ ( will provide information about the latest news on board.

‘On the FS METEOR, we have four weeks to take samples from the deep sea using the latest methods’, says Professor Hartmut Arndt from the University of Cologne about the sup-project ‘Deep Microbes’. ‘We are interested in water and sediment samples from the bottom of the ocean, especially the bacteria and single-cell organisms they contain. We assume that they are the main organisms responsible for deep-sea metabolism.’

The deep sea is an ecosystem we know very little about. The scientists assume that it is populated by a variety of undiscovered species. ‘But what kinds of organisms they are and how they manage to adapt to changes in the deep sea, for example specific conditions of pressure, the low food supply, and the effects of climate change – that is what we want to find out’, explains Hartmut Arndt. A completely new device to take samples will help the scientists obtain information about the activities of microorganisms at 4,000 metres under the surface of the sea.  

The second sub-project, ‘Bright Flows’, addresses the age of volcanos on the old oceanic crust. With the help of modern echo sounders, the scientists can send acoustic signals to the bottom of the sea and measure their acoustic reply. The quality and intensity of the acoustic reply will allow them to make inferences about the structure of the ocean’s floor and the depth of the sediments. The sediment layer is an indicator for the age of the structures at the bottom of the sea.

Dr. Nico Augustin from GEOMAR in Kiel heads the geological research. He says, ‘The eco sounds will hopefully provide evidence supporting our assumption that among a thickly sedimented, 20-million-year-old layer of rock there are also smaller areas that are less than half a million years old. We know of similar structures in the Red Sea, which is very young in geological terms. These areas in which the rock layer is very thin in the Atlantic Ocean might indicate a new type of intraplate volcanism, which we simply did not notice before at this majestic depth.’

The expedition started in Panama on 8 July and will arrive in Cape Verde on 8 August 2017. M139 is being funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Professor Hartmut Arndt
Zoological Institute, University of Cologne
on bord: h.arndt(at)
(Please do not send attachments!)

Dr. Nico Augustin
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel, Research Area 4: Dynamics of the Ocean Floor

Press and Communication team:
Frieda Berg
+49 221 470-1704

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