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The Atlantic Ocean is out of breath

ROV off Mingulay

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Sid Frisby


A remotely operated submarine vehicle is used to collect images of the coral reefs of the Mingulay Reef off the west coast of Scotland

An extensive international research program has been launched to evaluate the health of the Atlantic Ocean.

The iAtlantic project is the largest ever built in the second largest ocean on the planet.

It involves more than 30 partners, funded by the EU, and coordinated by the University of Edinburgh.

Scientists will use a range of high-tech devices, including underwater robots, to analyze the ocean depths, from the Arctic to South America.

They want to evaluate the effects of climate change on plants and animals.

They will use genomics, physics, machine learning and other specialties and will spend four years creating a digital map of ocean ecosystems.

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University of Edinburgh


The project will cover all aspects of life in the Atlantic Ocean

The results will help governments determine which Atlantic developments are sustainable and responsible.

They will also highlight "refuges" where endangered species may have a chance to survive.

The Atlantic is suffering from a three-pronged attack, according to Professor Murray Roberts of the University of Edinburgh, coordinator of the Atlantic program.

As an illustration, he opens a bucket sample and takes out a red crab of deep water about a foot.

It's a beauty. He also died, sampled in 2012 and immersed in a condom ever since.

"It's just to give you an idea of ​​the scale and beauty of life on the high seas," said the professor.

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University of Edinburgh


The world's oceans have absorbed most of the effects of global warming and researchers want to understand the impact this has on plants and animals.

He pulls out buckets of specimens of black coral and a deep-rays roe, a voluminous version of what we, the inhabitants of the earth, sometimes call the siren's handbag.

Until here, so diverse. So what is the problem?

"What will happen to these animals in the future with the changes of the Atlantic?" Pr Roberts says.

"When it's warmer, it becomes more acidic and in some places – it is out of breath.

"Because the Atlantic, like many ocean basins around the world, is deoxygenating, it's losing the oxygen essential to life."

The cause is climate change: 90% of global warming has been absorbed by the oceans.

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University of Edinburgh


All forms of ocean life, plankton whales, will be evaluated by scientists working on the project.

The team will focus on the ecosystems of 12 regions, including the Mid-Atlantic ridge off Iceland, the Sargasso Sea, the cold depths of Angola in the Congo Lobe and the Vitória-Trindade mountain range in Brazil. .

Plus, much closer to home, a coral reef off the western islands.

In the laboratory of Edinburgh, Dr. Laurence De Clippele shows us underwater images of mounds of coral Mingulay Reef.

The images are remarkable but the technology allows him to do more.

The mounds were mapped with unprecedented details by a remote-controlled submersible equipped with a sonar.

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Laurence De Clippele


The mounds of coral are shown in a 3D map

Dr. De Clippele transformed the data into brightly colored 3D maps.

It is one of the technologies that the iAtlantic team hopes to apply to the entire ocean.

"You can see all those little bumps here, they're live corals," she says.

"The mounds consist of two dead skeletons – calcium carbonate – and living."

We usually encounter calcium carbonate in the form of chalk. But it also constitutes the shells of marine organisms.

If the acidity of the ocean reaches a high enough level, it will be very bad news because the shells can soften or dissolve completely.

In addition, if a coral does not respond well to rising sea temperatures, it is unable to stand and move elsewhere.

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University of Edinburgh


The only coastal coral reef in Scotland, the Mingulay, in the Western Isles, will be part of the study

"These reefs are very important because they host many animals," says Dr. De Clippele.

"They can shelter there, feed there, breed there."

"And some of them are economically important because they could end up on our plate."

The Scottish Sea Science Association (SAMS), based in Dunstaffnage near Oban, is another partner.

There, on the shore, physicist Prof Stuart Cunningham shows me an autonomous glider.

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University of Edinburgh


The study will focus on the effects of rising sea temperatures and increased acidification.

By looking around the world like a winged torpedo, it can vary its buoyancy to slide one kilometer below the surface of the ocean in order to take action and then "flip" to the surface to send the data back home via satellite .

He does it without assistance for six months at a time.

"We can measure properties such as temperature, salinity, currents and oxygen," says Professor Cunningham.

"As well as other parameters such as the amount of sunlight penetrating into the ocean."

& # 39; True problem & # 39;

The project will last four years, the Horizon 2020 program of the European Union providing for more than 10 million euros.

An additional $ 30 million will come from partners in the form of research cruises and other technologies.

Prof Roberts says that they will examine all aspects of life in the ocean column.

"We're going to look at humpback whales, plankton, corals," he says.

"Then we will study the evolution of ocean physics.

"We can then understand where ecosystems rock from one state to another, where we will have a real problem in the future.

"If we can identify these areas, then we can work with governments to ease the pressures."

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