Scientists from Zeeland, working at Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) in Yerseke, are following in the footsteps of well-known explorers Charles Darwin, Abel Tasman and Willem Barentsz. Together with scientists from other research institutes, there are twelve expeditions sailing around the world for one year to study our oceans.
According to Dick van Oevelen, the leader of this expedition from the NIOZ, things are not going well with the oceans: "They are warming up and acidifying, which affects biodiversity. In some areas the oceans are also affected by litter, overfishing and underwater noise pollution."
The scientists on this expedition are part of the Netherlands Initiative Changing Oceans (NICO). This is a special project which integrates research from different disciplines: from seabed samples to viruses, from coral reefs to whales, and from noise pollution caused by ships to deep-sea mining. This project aims to shake up the world.
Around the world
NIOZ’s research vessel, the NV Pelagia, first travels to Gran Canaria, then crosses the Atlantic to the Caribbean and the Mississippi Delta, before sailing back to Amsterdam. The researchers will then end up in the Azores. Different research takes place in each area. On each expedition new researchers arrive on the vessel to carry out a variety of studies on the sea floor, animal behaviour, microbes, geology, chemistry and climate.
The reason for this expedition is the proposal which was presented last spring by the council to the Dutch government. It contains more than thirty policy ambitions regarding respect for and sustainable use of our oceans. Normally, such proposals quickly disappear in a desk drawer, but this research will keep the proposal alive.
One of the twelve expeditions focuses on one of the richest cold-water coral reefs in the world. This reef lies southwest of Ireland at great depth and is in some places hundreds of meters high. But how can these coral reefs survive in the deep sea which is known to be low in nutrients? This is still a mystery to scientists. The NICO researchers want to know how these cold-water corals get their food, so that they can determine if this will change in the coming years due to global issues.
The Whittard Canyon forms an important link between the shallow nutrient-rich slopes and the nutrient-poor deep sea. Via this canyon, food is transported to the deep sea where it can be stored for long periods of time. The NICO researchers want to know whether this canyon is a highway or a storage place for food and whether life on the sea bottom benefits from the high food concentrations.
Once every two years
If it is up to NIOZ and Dick van Oevelen this expedition won’t be the last. "It would be great if we could organize a new expedition once every two years, so that we can conduct long-term research in which a wealth of information would be collected."
Link to the original article in Dutch: https://www.omroepzeeland.nl/nieuws/105607/Zeeuwse-wetenschappers-op-expeditie-om-oceanen-te-redden