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Exploring life in the mid-Atlantic at various depths down to 4 km (2.5 miles), 60 scientists from 13 countries on a two-month expedition have surfaced a wealth of new information and insights, stunning images and marine life specimens, several thought to be species never before known to science. Using remotely-operated deep-sea vehicles, hydroacoustics and other technologies for sampling and observation, the Norwegian-led MAR-ECO Expedition (http://www.mar-eco.no ), part of the 10-year, $1 billion Census of Marine Life (www.coml.org ), has captured or recorded rare and potentially new species of squid and fish, measured the abundance of life, and advanced knowledge of - while raising new questions about - many other aspects of the Mid-Atlantic ecosystem.
Among the scientists' discoveries and interests:
* The unexpected diversity of animal communities in mid-water and along the bottom in a major section of the global system of mid-oceanic ridges. Thus far recorded, using an arsenal of methods and technologies: about 300 fish species, 50 squids and octopods, and an unknown number of planktonic species yet to be identified;
* Rings of planktonic organisms, observed by echosounders, massed by underwater forces into circular swarms measuring more than 10 km wide, an example of underwater "physical-biological coupling" and thought to be the largest such phenomenon ever recorded;
* Repeated observations of a reef-building, cold-water coral known as Lophelia pertusa. While no major reefs were found, the species was documented for the first time along this section of the mid-Atlantic Ridge;
* New insights into the significance and ecology of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone, a mid-Atlantic oasis of life, and the Sub-Polar Front.
* A new deep-sea mystery in the form of burrows left by an animal at 2000 meters on a seamount north of the Azores. The lines of evenly-spaced, 5 cm-wide holes create the impression of someone having "used a sewing machine to create this landscape," according to the researchers. While the suspected burrower is a large crustacean or deep-sea blind lobster, several questions linger. "Perhaps each line is a burrow with multiple entries, or is it a succession of burrows with just a single opening, but then how and why can these lines be that straight?" ("Fig. 16." Photo credit: MAR-ECO.)
* Two specimens of the rare Aphyonus gelatinosus, a strange bottom-dwelling, semi-transparent fish covered in a gelatinous layer, recorded only once before in the North Atlantic. ("Fig. 10." Photo credit: David Shale.)
Also among the more than 80,000 specimens collected:
* A deep-sea anglerfish with an unusual head structure and uniquely formed "lure" at the end of the fishing apparatus that sets it apart from other known species ("Fig. 8." Photo credit: Tracey Sutton);
* An unusual member of the Promachoteuthidae family of squids, distinguished by their small heads and small eyes covered with a semi-opaque pseudo-cornea ("Fig. 7". Promachoteuthis megapter. Photo credit Richard Young");
* At least one suspected new species of Ophidophormes, one of the most common deep-sea fish orders ("Fig. 9." Photo credit: Franz Uiblein).
Extensive analyses will be conducted to disprove or verify these and other candidate specimens as new species.
Conducting the expedition, which embarked from Bergen June 5 with a mid-voyage crew change in the Azores: scientists from Austria, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, UK and USA.
Co-ordinated by Norway's Institute of Marine Research and the University of Bergen, MAR-ECO is supported by a large number of public and private contributors, listed online at http://www.mar-eco.no/about/sponsors .
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Download  Russian Arctic Marine Fauna Project (pdf, 535K)