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Current Issues in Arctic Benthic Ecology

A large proportion of the benthic biomass on Arctic shelves is found on and immediately above the seafloor.  These epibenthic organisms are poorly sampled via traditional mechanisms such as coring.  Photography has proven to be the best method for quantifying the abundance and distribution of larger organisms. The challenges of sampling the epibenthc microbial community are many, and include both temporal and spatial concerns (a microbial lifetime may be on the order of a day, and its habitat may be on the order of a centimeter). Perhaps real-time in-situ sampling using either autonomous or remotely operated vehicles is the best option for both marcofaunal and microbial work.  And an understanding of the epifaunal communities is critical- our recent analyses show up to 30% of the organic carbon reaching the seafloor cycles through the epifauna. 

 In the much deeper, perennially ice-covered regions of the Arctic, where benthic microbes prevail, in-situ work is even more critical because rates obtained from ship-board incubated samples clearly do not reflect in-situ rates unless the extreme pressures of the seafloor can be replicated.  As the waters are continuously ice-covered, any surface based technologies must be able to handle the rigors of a continuously moving surface ice pack, which is notorious for parting cables and leading to lost gear. And recovery of any autonomous vehicles or benthic landers must take into account the challenges of finding a piece of equipment that surfaces under the ice. In summary then, benthic ecology has questions that remain unanswered for want of the technological capabilities of working in the deep Arctic Ocean.