Human exploitation of the deep sea is increasing rapidly.
Marine geoscientist Dr Veerle Huvenne of the National Oceanography Centre has been awarded a major research grant worth around 1.4 million Euros over five years to map complex habitats in the deep ocean and study the biodiversity they support.
The European Research Council (ERC) ‘Starting Grant’ scheme aims to fund young, early career scientists wishing to start up their own research groups. The grants are highly competitive, and this is the first ever such award to a laboratory managed by the Natural Environment Research Council.
The ERC award secures funding for a five-year project entitled ‘Complex Deep-sea Environments: Mapping habitat heterogeneity As Proxy for biodiversity’ (CODEMAP), which Huvenne will lead. It will bring together scientists and engineers from different groups across the National Oceanography Centre.
The aim of the project is to use state-of-the-art three-dimensional surveying methods to map complex deep-sea environments such as submarine canyons. Such environments are home to many marine creatures whose ecology is at present poorly understood, and are highly likely to host species new to science.
One important question that the project will address is how patterns of biodiversity are related to habitat heterogeneity at different spatial scales across deep-sea terrains.
Expressing her delight at receiving such a prestigious grant, Huvenne said “I am very happy to see support for integrated and multidisciplinary research in the marine environment. Human exploitation of the deep sea is increasing rapidly, and our understanding of the deep ocean is as yet far too limited to predict potential impacts and set up sustainable approaches. Integrated research combining traditional disciplines such as geology and ecology, and linking those with the latest developments in underwater vehicle technology, is the only way to approach this challenge.”