There are football fields full of mussels 1500 meters below the waves in the Atlantic, and scientists just discovered them. Mussels are usually found in the intertidal zone, but Dr. Amanda Demopoulos (Research Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)) presented information on recently-discovered mussels that thrive at abnormal depths due to their environmental adaptation to nutrients from deep ocean seeps.
Dr. Demopoulos, George P. Schmahl (Superintendent, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary), and Dr. Jason Chaytor (Research Geologist, USGS) each described recent discoveries from the ocean’s abyss at “The Deep Ocean: Earth’s Final Frontier” congressional briefing sponsored by the House Oceans Caucus.
Mr. Schmahl spoke of the vast, diverse forest of deep-sea corals that thrive in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Within the Gulf of Mexico, the Flower Garden Banks are home to a unique ecosystem of giant coral heads, manta rays, whale sharks, and hundreds of species of fish and invertebrates, which were thankfully unaffected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just proposed an expansion of the sanctuary due to its impressive biodiversity. Dr. Chaytor outlined the wide array of deep marine geohazards, including submarine landslides and slope instability, a potential tsunami concern. He also described gigantic submarine canyons, 20 times deeper than the height of the Washington Monument, whose capabilities for transporting sediment and chemicals to the deep ocean are unknown.
The briefing highlighted many exciting new discoveries, but scientists are eager to explore further to learn about the ocean that covers 70% of earth’s surface, especially the little-known deep sea. Thus far, studying the depths requires complex technology, including autonomous vehicles and remote sensing. However, enhanced efforts in exploration and observation are critically needed to understand this dynamic ecosystem. From learning about unexpected mussel adaptations to advanced tsunami warnings, the deep sea’s mysteries will continue to amaze us and offer exciting new opportunities for research and expanding knowledge.