Deep-sea voyage uncovers several new species and thousands of fossilized coral samples

February 5th, 2009 - 5:22 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): Scientists, on a month-long deep-sea voyage to a marine reserve near Tasmania, Australia, have found several new species and thousands of fossilized coral samples.

The scientists, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and an international team of collaborators, not only netted coral-reef samples likely to provide insight into the impact of climate change on the worlds oceans, but also brought to light at least three never-before-seen species of sea life.

It was truly one of those transcendent moments, said Caltechs Jess Adkins of the descents made by the remotely operated submersible Jason.

We were flying - literally flying - over these deep-sea structures that look like English gardens, but are actually filled with all of these carnivorous, Seuss-like creatures that no one else has ever seen, he added.

The voyage, on the research vessel RV Thompson, explored the Tasman Fracture Commonwealth Marine Reserve, southwest of Tasmania.

The voyage was funded by the National Science Foundation and was the second of two cruises taken by the team, which included researchers from the United States, including scientists from Caltech and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, which owns and operates the submersible Jason.

The first of those voyages was taken in January 2008, with this most recent one spanning 33 days from mid-December 2008 through mid-January 2009.

Up until now, the area of the reef the scientists were exploring, called the Tasman Fracture Zone, had only been explored to a depth of 1,800 meters (more than 5,900 feet).

Using Jason, the researchers on this trip were able to reach as far down as 4,000 meters (well over 13,000 feet).

We set out to search for life deeper than any previous voyage in Australian waters, said scientist Ron Thresher from CSIROs Climate Adaptation and Wealth from Oceans Flagships.

In one sense, the deep ocean is less explored than Mars. So, every time you go to look down there you see new things, magical things, said Adkins.

Among the magical things seen on this trip were a new species of carnivorous sea squirt that looks and behaves like a Venus fly trap, said Adkins; new species of barnacles (some of which Adkins says may even belong to an entirely new family); and a new species of sea anemone that Adkins calls the bane of our existence, because it looks just like the coral they were trying to collect.

The 10,000-plus samples collected will help the researchers begin their work of deciphering just what has been happening to the ocean throughout the centuries of climate change, and during and between glacial cycles. (ANI)

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