MIDAS gears up for epic cruise season

News date: 
February 11, 2015

As spring approaches, MIDAS scientists are gearing themselves up for the busiest expedition period of the project. This spring, a series of extensive field campaigns involving dozens of scientists from around Europe will target the manganese nodule fields and associated study areas of the Clarion Clipperton Zone in the Pacific Ocean.


RV SonneThe epic cruise season begins in March aboard the new German research vessel RV Sonne (right). Funded under the JPI Oceans initiative, this expedition will visit the German, Belgian and French license areas and - for the first time - one of the nine protected (APEI) areas defined in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) by the International Seabed Authority. The primary goals are to assess the ecosystem status prior to any mining activities, to study the long-range connectivity of benthic fauna across the CCZ, and to evaluate if seamounts are suitable refuges and sources for recolonisation for species from mined areas. This expedition will gather data for the JPIO-funded project on Ecological aspects of deep-sea mining but will also contribute crucial data and samples for MIDAS work.


The beginning of April will mark the start of another MIDAS expedition, this time led by the UK's Natural Environment Research Council and focusing on the easternmost of the APEI areas in the CCZ. Using the RRS James Cook, the team on board plan to carry out extensive biological sampling and surveying to understand the seafloor habitat and its inhabitants in this region.


Autosub6000Principal scientist Daniel Jones said "We are planning to study a representative area of the APEI in great detail at high resolution and over a variety of scales. This will enable us to characterise the habitats, biology, physical and chemical conditions in great detail - adding important information about the CCZ in general and making a detailed baseline assessment for this area, which can be compared to other sites and used as a barometer of change in the deep sea associated with mining activities."  

A variety of tools will be used in the assessment of this 4300m deep area of the CCZ: the autonomous underwater vehicle Autosub6000 (pictured left) will carry out wide area acoustic surveys, collect seabed photographs and make physical measurements of the water column of the APEI. There will also be more detailed HD video surveys of the seafloor using the HyBIS vehicle, and samples of sediment, seawater and biological specimens will be collected. 


Later on in the summer, the RV Sonne will return to the Pacific for a further 2 months, this time to revisit the DISCOL experimental area in the Peru Basin, where an area of seafloor was deliberately ploughed up as part of a scientific experiment in 1989. Studying this unique site will allow the assessment of the long-term impact of mining activities. At the DISCOL site the scale of recovery, the ecosystem status and the biogeochemical status after 26 years will be investigated by comparing the ploughed area with adjacent undisturbed areas.


In other MIDAS study areas, cruises during 2015 will visit the mid-Atlantic ridge, the fjords of Norway, the Fram Strait, Svalbard and Hausgarten areas of the Arctic region, the Black Sea, and seamounts and mine waste disposal sites in the Mediterranean. In total, nearly 280 days of shiptime will contribute data to the MIDAS project in 2015. A busy year!