Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Mapping global benthic ecosystems on continental slopes

This is a student project for a BSc or a MSc student. This project can be done as a short research project or be extended into a thesis.
Continental slopes, where the continental shelf steeply descends into the deep sea, seem to provide a good environment for benthic (i.e. floor-dwelling) ecosystems, as  many ecosystems such as cold-water coral reefs and sponge grounds are found on continental slopes. However, it remains unclear why exactly these continental slopes are such a good environment. Based on recent findings, we believe it has to do with the formation of so-called internal waves in the ocean.
Internal waves travel ‘within’ the ocean, more specifically on the interface between water layers of different densities. The interaction between such waves and continental slopes can induce vertical mixing, local turbulence, and accelerated currents over the seafloor. Especially these conditions can enhance the food supply towards the seafloor and stimulate the development of rich benthic ecosystems.
Your role
To find out whether internal waves are important for benthic ecosystems, we take a two-step approach. First, you will use data from literature to map existing benthic ecosystems along continental slopes, on a global scale. Hence, we expect you to search the literature for different benthic ecosystems and build a global picture of where they occur on continental slopes. Depending on the length of the project, and the level and interests of the student, we would also like you to investigate whether the systems can be related to internal waves for a few case studies. This can be done with a simple hydrodynamic model, if this has got your interest.
If a publication follows where your work is included, you can help writing it up, if you like. I always encourage own initiatives and ideas within projects. You will be situated in Yerseke. No field- or lab work is included in this project, but at NIOZ Yerseke there are many opportunities to help with practical work of ongoing research projects.
More information

Please contact PhD student Anna van der Kaaden

Figure 1. A: Cold-water corals rely on currents for the delivery of food particles that they passively filter from the water column with their tentacles (© S. Maier, NIOZ). They build reefs of which three examples are shown. B-I: near Miami, located between 700 and 850 m depth (image from Correa, Eberli, Grasmueck et al. (2012) Marine Geology). B-II: in the Gulf of Mexico between 500 and 600 m depth (image from Hebbeln, Wienberg, Wintersteller et al. (2014) Biogeosciences). B-III: next to Norway at 300 m depth (image from Bøe, Bellec, Buhl-Mortensen et al. (2016) Atlas of Submarine Glacial Landforms: Modern, Quaternary and Ancient). The two maps are from Google Earth, US Dept. of State Geographer (2018).