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All systems go – SAMS major partner in biggest ever assessment of Atlantic deep-sea ecosystems

The Scottish Association for Marine Science, based at Dubstaffnage near Oban, is a major partner in the £9 million ATLAS project – A trans-Atlantic assessment and deep-sea ecosystem-based spatial management plan for Europe – and is contributing oceanographic expertise and Seaglider autonomous underwater vehicles [pictured above].

The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 funding programme is supporting this largest and most ambitious assessment of deep-sea Atlantic ecosystems ever undertaken, which got going on 13th-15th June 2016 in Edinburgh.

The launch of ATLAS marks the beginning of an exciting series of expeditions involving at least 25 research cruises and hundreds of scientists from 10 European countries, including the USA and Canada, working collaboratively to explore the depths of the Atlantic Ocean over the next four years.

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ATLAS Project Coordinator, Professor J. Murray Roberts, from Heriot-Watt University, says: ‘The north Atlantic was the birthplace of deep-sea biology and the cradle of oceanography. It’s the place we should know best, but it’s only over the last 20 years that we’ve uncovered just how varied and vulnerable the Atlantic’s deep-sea habitats really are.’

ATLAS will strive to improve our understanding of the complexity of deep-sea ecosystems and to predict future shifts and vulnerabilities of these ecosystems and their associated species, including those that are new to science. To do this requires a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and an integrated approach to tackling the problem. Alongside traditional approaches, ATLAS scientists will explore modern molecular techniques, such as environmental DNA (eDNA) sequencing, to search water and sediment samples for known and undiscovered deep-sea species.

As well as carrying out pioneering research and discovery, a major goal of ATLAS is to develop a scientific knowledge base that can inform the development of appropriate international policies to ensure deep-sea Atlantic resources are managed effectively. This will contribute to the European Commission’s long-term ‘Blue Growth’ strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole. Seas and oceans are drivers for the European economy and have great potential for innovation and growth. The ‘blue’ economy represents roughly 5.4 million jobs and generates a gross added value of almost €500 billion a year for Europe.

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ATLAS also intends to carry out outreach activities to raise awareness of the importance and vulnerability of the Atlantic ecosystem and the impact humans are having on the ocean environment. This will contribute to a major international effort for ‘Ocean Literacy’ to make all European citizens aware of the importance of the oceans on everyday life on Earth and what actions they can take to help protect them. Activities will include the development of deep sea education material, a travelling road show and a new interactive exhibition on the ocean at Dynamic Earth, a science centre in Edinburgh which receives over 220,000 visitors per year.

Note – as well as the Sealglider photographed at the top, the other two photographs accompanying this article are from SAMS and show some of the spectacular marine creatures found at depth in the Atlantic.

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