This Intrepid Robot Is the WALL-E of the Deep Sea


However how much carbon is trapped can vary from sea to sea and from season to season. In general, researchers do not have good management of the biological and chemical processes that take place there. “The rover helps us understand how much carbon can actually enter deep-sea sediments,” said MBARI marine biologist Crissy Huffard, co-author of the new paper. “It’s just that we’re looking at how much carbon can be stored in sediments, compared to how much has been depleted and may have contributed to deep-sea acidification.” (If carbon dioxide dissolves in seawater, it becomes carbonic acid.)

Here’s a hard -hitting example of one of the carbon mysteries of the sea floor. In California, the land warms faster than the surrounding ocean, a difference that intensifies weather winds. That can raise the water — the wind pushes the top water away, and the water from the bottom rushes to fill the void. It will carry a lot of nutrients to feed on phytoplankton, which will bloom in surface water, and then die and become marine snow. Between 2015 and 2020, for example, the BR-II’s fluorescence camera noticed a large increase in the amount of phytoplankton reaching the sea floor in large pulses. At the same time, its sensors detect a decrease in oxygen, which means that microbes on the sea floor are busy processing the bonanza of organic material.

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That raises some questions for Huffard. “Overall, the area is getting worse with its food supply — it could be years of food costs going down in a few weeks. So how does it change the whole ecosystem? ”He asked. “The response from the animal community was almost immediate. They started it right away, without much lag.

What does this mean for the carbon cycle? In theory, the more organic material that rains, the more it is hidden from the atmosphere. But at the same time, the sea floor organisms that eat this bonus buffet also use oxygen and emit carbon dioxide, which can acidify deeper water. And because the oceans are constantly circulating, some of that carbon may even return to surface waters and into the atmosphere. “We show that more and more carbon than predicted is going into the deep sea,” Huffard said. “The rover added dimension to tell us that most of that carbon is actually consumed once it’s there, not stored in the sediment.”

Is this much larger pulse of sea snow now a permanent part of California’s deep waters, or an aberration? With the benthic rover, scientists can gather the long -term data needed to start providing answers. “The deep sea is under-studied and under-appreciated, despite the fact that it’s essential to keeping the planet healthy and combating climate change,” said Lisa Levin, who studies the ocean floor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography but was not involved in this work. “An army of such tools can help us better understand biogeochemical changes – essential to improving climate models, ecosystem models, fisheries models, and more.” Rovers could also help scientists study the effects of deep sea mining operations.



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