Science News

Seafloor Map: Digital Mapping Reveals Plankton Graveyards

Data from over 15,000 seafloor composition samples has been compiled, giving way to the first digital seafloor map. According to Discovery News, the composition of the oceans’ floors are much different than what experts had previously thought. Discovery described this composition as a “complicated mosaic of silt, clay, mud” and four different varieties of ooze and other debris.

Among other things, the map displays the locations of plankton graveyards and surprisingly, the masses of dead diatoms — a type of phytoplankton which consumes carbon dioxide and expels oxygen — appear to have perished in locations other than where they are known to bloom on the surface. According to geophysicist Dietmar Muller with the University of Sydney, “This disconnect demonstrates that we understand the carbon source, but not the sink.”

Although the map is exponentially more complicated than previous maps of its kind, indicating that those who have studied the sea have long been operating under several false assumptions, the map is still merely a simplification of the large data set gathered from all over the globe. This research has several implications for the study of sea biology, climate change, and geology. It may also even allow those navigating the waters for research purposes to remain safer when undertaking their work.

The southern seas around the Australian continent were of particular interest to many experts. Sedimentologist Adriana Dutkiewicz was quoted by Live Science as having said, “Our map shows this area is actually a complex patchwork of microfossil remains” and the Southern Ocean’s life “is much richer than previously thought.”

Our map shows this area is actually a complex patchwork of microfossil remains (…) Life in the Southern Ocean is much richer than previously thought.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Geology, noted that “knowing the patterns of distribution of sediments in the global ocean is critical for understanding biogeochemical cycles and how deep-sea deposits respond to environmental change at the sea surface.” Several areas of science overlap in this new project. Scientists expect the resource to inform various research initiatives throughout the world.

Clay compositions of the land beneath the waters were found in unexpectedly high concentrations in the Indian Ocean and around the continent of South America. Some are beginning to rethink the relationship between the decomposition of organisms and the formation of rocks. On this topic, paleontologist Spencer Lucas said, “Nature is always more complex than we want her to be.”

It may be years until the long-term benefits of this global seafloor map are realized, but scientists whose work touches upon the ocean can smile about this month’s new extensive resource.

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