Earlier this year, a research team led by Ken Smith traveled to the area of the western North Atlantic known as the Sargasso Sea to study the effects of climate variation on surface Sargassum and deep-sea ecosystems. On July 27, 2011, Smith and his team of MBARI researchers return to the Sargasso Sea to continue their study. Follow the team as daily updates are posted on this website with images and information about the research as it happens.
Sargassum is a brown alga that has a conspicuous presence in the surface waters of the western North Atlantic. These floating patches of seaweed serve as the basis for entire communities of organisms ranging from bacteria and phytoplankton to attached and free-swimming animals, many of which are unique to this environment. MBARI scientist Ken Smith proposes that these Sargassum communities will be significantly altered by warming surface waters, and that the influence of this climate variation on the life at the ocean’s surface ultimately affects the food supply to the deep-sea ecosystems that occupy over 60 percent of the Earth’s surface.
To test this hypothesis, in February 2011 Smith and his team spent three weeks in the Sargasso Sea on board the Schmidt Ocean Institute research vessel, Lone Ranger. During this previous cruise, the research team collected samples from within the Sargassum and the surrounding surface waters, and deployed a deep-sea observatory to photograph the seafloor and collect particles of debris that drift down from the surface.
On this follow-up expedition, Smith’s research team will collect additional samples from the surface waters to compare with records collected in the same region of the Sargasso Sea 25 to 35 years ago. The team will also recover and redeploy the deep-sea observatory they left on the seafloor in February. The data collected by this observatory will contribute to the global effort to monitor the effects of warming ocean waters on both surface and deep-sea ecosystems.