Ocean exploration off California discovers new methane

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Marine scientists aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute Falkor research vessel conducted a 12-day expedition off the coast of Southern California to study the biodiversity of mineral-rich deep water areas of interest to mining developers offshore mining from around the world.

The expedition, which covered 5,310 square miles, explored nine deep-water sites, including the offshore site where hundreds of thousands of barrels of toxic waste from the production of the insecticide DDT were dumped from 1947 to 1982. .

With an underwater robot, the team of scientists from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the United States Geological Survey collected sediment and biological samples around six barrels to understand the potential ecological effects of the discharge and to determine the levels of DDT present in the ecosystem after more than 50 years. The site had already been studied by scientists from UC Santa Barbara
and Scripps on previous expeditions.

The goal of the Schmidt Ocean Institute expedition was to establish mineral and biological bases in the area known as Southern California Borderland, which has the potential for deep sea mining. The area contains rare earth marine minerals such as ferromanganese and phosphorite which are used in the manufacture of electronics, electric car batteries, solar panels and other green technologies.
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Scientists have collected more than 300 samples of seabed rocks, sediments, seawater and marine invertebrates to better understand the ecology, mineral and microbial makeup of the relatively unexplored underwater system. By collecting samples, the researchers also hope to assess the therapeutic or drug discovery potential of deep-sea microbes found in mineral-rich areas.


MSc student Michel Guraieb (of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and RC vehicle pilot Nick Radford collect water samples from the SuBastian ROV. Throughout a dive, the ROV collects water samples at different depths to test aspects such as oxygen level and salinity. Photo credit / Copyright: Brady Lawrence / Schmidt Ocean Institute


“We are just beginning to understand the precious resources of our ocean ecosystem,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. “We cannot protect what we don’t know and understand, and the human impact on our ocean over the past 75 years has taken a toll on its health and the many ocean systems that support life on it. Earth. We expect that the knowledge gained from this expedition will inform deep sea policy, management and stewardship so that toxic waste spills like this do not happen again.

During one of the dives to explore the DDT site, scientists discovered a whale fall, the location on the seabed where a whale’s remains come from.
rest. Scientists have also identified a new area of ​​methane infiltration. Marine biologists consider the two areas to be a specialized research center because of the unique habitat they create.

“Establishing ecological baselines in the deep sea allows us to track changes over time and better understand the consequences of human actions,” said Chief Scientist Lisa Levin, Professor of Biological Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “The DDT dump site provides evidence of a significant human footprint in the depths of the ocean, but we are only just beginning to identify the effects on local marine communities.”

Information gathered by the team at the DDT barrel disposal site will be compared to animals and microbes from more distant sites to assess current concentrations and effects of DDT in the area. The samples will be returned to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where scientists will conduct further analysis and DNA sequencing.


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