In an effort to study a variety of marine organisms which have evolved to live in extreme environments, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), led by President Asahiko Taira, has begun a project called QUELLE2013.
This project began in January 2013, using the manned research submersible SHINKAI 6500 and its support vessel YOKOSUKA. QUELLE2013 is a global-scale voyage of scientific surveys and research on ecosystems in hydrothermal vent areas and other unique and extreme environments in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
SHINKAI 6500 has just completed a survey of the Tonga Trench*1, and has completed all the planned surveys of the QUELLE2013 project, and is scheduled to come back to Japan in early December after another surveys in and around the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
The detailed research results will be released in due course via voyage reports and articles in scientific journals. In this report, we will brief the just-completed surveys at the Kermadec Trench in the South Pacific Ocean.
1.Objectives of the survey of the Kermadec Trench
The oceanic structure around New Zealand, a country in the southern hemisphere, is similar to the one around Japan. There are areas where a seamount chain stretches several thousand kilometers. In this survey, jointly with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research of New Zealand, JAMSTEC has studied organisms living in an area where two large seamount chains meet.
One of the large seamount chains surveyed is the Louisville Seamount Chain – a chain of over 70 seamounts stretching about 4,300 kilometers from north-east to south-west of New Zealand. Seamounts in this area were formed around the South Pole, and some 70 millions of years later, they will subduct into the Kermadec Trench. Therefore, they will disappear in the near geologic future. The Tonga-Kermadec Arc is located just across the trench with a series of volcanically active seamounts. There is an area where hot water spews out of cracks in the seabed. Although the area is too deep (below 200-meter depth) for most of marine species to survive, various species are densely populated, like around coral reefs. Organisms rely on bacteria for energy. The bacteria produce energy from hydrogen sulfide and methane contained in the hot water.
In such a very unique environment where the disappearing seamount chain and the volcanically-active seamount chain lie side-by-side across the trench axis, this survey was conducted to determine if there is any difference in ecosystems between the two seamount chains and, if any, where the difference comes from. For the first time in the world, JAMSTEC observed the seafloor in this area, using the manned research submersible SHINKAI 6500. JAMSTEC tried to collect data as well as samples of deep-sea species, using high-definition cameras and various measuring instruments. JAMSTEC plans to unravel the mechanism of ecosystems in unique environments based on the biological distribution data and the genetic information.
(1) The Louisville Seamount Chain at depths of 1,200 – 2,800 meters and the northern Kermadec Arc at depths of 400 – 800 meters
Period: October 26 to 30, 2013
i) Topographic and geological survey in and around the Louisville Seamount Chain and the northern Kermadec Arc at depths of 300 – 5,000 meters.
– Survey was conducted during dives of SHINKAI 6500.
– Survey was conducted, using the “DEEP TOW” camera system.
– Outcrops were observed and rock samples were obtained, using SHINKAI 6500.
– Data on the submarine topography, gravity, and magnetism were measured, using instruments on the vessel.
ii) Ecosystem and biodiversity monitoring in the Louisville Seamount Chain and the northern Kermadec Arc at depths of 300 – 5,000 meters.
– Visual observation was conducted from SHINKAI 6500 to study depth distribution of biota.
– Survey was conducted with biological specimens collected using a slurp gun (suction sampler), manipulators, and core samplers.
– Environmental variables of habitats were measured, including water depth, water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen level, and hydrogen sulfide level.
– Biological distribution was surveyed, using the “DEEP TOW” camera system.
3.Summary of research achievements
A detailed bathymetric chart of an area around the Osbourn Seamount, Canopus Seamount and Hinepuia Seamount was drawn as there had been little topographic data on the area. The Osbourn Seamount is located at the west end of the Louisville Seamount Chain, while the Hinepuia Seamount is located in the northern Kermadec Arc.
The seafloor was observed at the Louisville Seamount Chain for the first time in the world. Many species were found, including sponge, coral, lobster, crab, sea cucumber, sea urchin, starfish, and fish species. Some of the species were successfully sampled.
At the Hinepuia Seamount located in the northern Kermadec Arc, a hydrothermal vent area and biological communities living there were successfully discovered for the first time in the world. Communities of Bathymodiolus mussels, Symphurus orientalis, and other species were found there. The observation results are significant in understanding the continuity and evolution of biological communities as the area is located at the north end of a large north-south seamount chain, the Kermadec Arc.
Geological features were observed and rock samples were obtained. This made it possible to compare volcanic zones between the northern Kermadec Arc and the Louisville Seamount Chain.
– November 3 to 4 YOKOSUKA and SHINKAI 6500 are open to the public in Auckland, New Zealand
– Mid-November Surveys are conducted in and around the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
– Early-December YOKOSUKA and SHINKAI 6500 arrive at the Yokosuka Headquarters, Japan.
Press Release, November 01, 2013