The assessment of Atlantic deep sea ecosystems, supported by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 funding programme, marks the beginning of a series of expeditions in the Atlantic Ocean.
The expeditions, involving at least 25 research cruises and scientists from 10 European countries, the USA and Canada, will be co-ordinated by Professor J Murray Roberts, director of the Centre for Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology at Heriot-Watt.
The €9 million ATLAS (A trans-Atlantic assessment and deep-sea ecosystem-based spatial management plan for Europe) project will explore the depths of the Atlantic Ocean over the next four years.
ATLAS will strive to improve the understanding of the complexity of deep-sea ecosystems and to predict future shifts and vulnerabilities of these ecosystems and their associated species, including those that are new to science, Heriot-Watt said.
Project co-ordinator Professor Roberts said, “The north Atlantic was the birthplace of deep-sea biology and the cradle of oceanography. It’s the place we should know best, but it’s only over the last 20 years that we’ve uncovered just how varied and vulnerable the Atlantic’s deep-sea habitats really are.”
As well as carrying out pioneering research and discovery, a major goal of ATLAS is to develop a scientific knowledge base that can inform the development of appropriate international policies to ensure deep-sea Atlantic resources are managed effectively, Heriot-Watt added.
ATLAS also intends to carry out outreach activities to raise awareness of the importance and vulnerability of the Atlantic ecosystem and the impact humans are having on the ocean environment.