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Methane Seeps Under Hypoxia

Methane Seeps Under Hypoxia:
Novel Ecosystems within E. Pacific Oxygen Minimum Zones

L. Levin and P. Lonsdale, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Wiebke Ziebis, Univ. So. California

Anthony Rathburn, Indiana State University
Elva Escobar, UNAM
Dimitri Gutierrez, IMARPE

Support: NOAA Ocean Exploration 2005


Unusual and novel ecosystems in the deep sea are often found where environmental stressors combine to create unique conditions. We propose to explore the benthic communities that develop where methane seepage, and attendant high sulfide concentrations, intersects with natural hypoxia, associated with global oxygen minimum zones. Specific targets have been identified in the Gulf of California and Off Peru. These will be studied by utilizing Mexican and Peruvian research vessels with a combination of ship-based sonar, video imaging by Phantom ROV, multicoring, trawling and dredging. Objectives are to (a) locate and survey novel seep ecosystems within OMZs, establishing their geologic and hydrographic setting (b) document the distribution of reducing communities in relation to geological surroundings, (c) quantify the abundance and composition of biotic assemblages (d) establish the nature, distribution, and biological effect of hydrocarbon-generated crusts and condensates around the seeps (e) evaluate the influence of low oxygen on the biogeography, diversity, metabolic and trophic pathways represented and (d) draw comparisons to better oxygenated seep ecosystems, and OMZ ecosystems without seepage. This research will advance understanding of biotic response to hyper-stressed conditions (sulfide toxicity and hypoxia), expand known biogeography of reducing ecosystems, and yield insight into evolution within ultra-extreme environments. We anticipate that the results will broaden our understanding of seeps as unusual environments, expand our views of marine biodiversity and develop much needed biogeographic data for Eastern Central Pacific deep-sea ecosystems.

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Updated September 7, 2006
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