Deep-Sea News

Bioluminescence and Vision on the Deep Seafloor

From July 14 to July 27 2015, scientists used their combined expertise in bioluminescence, taxonomy, visual ecology, imaging and molecular biology, together with the unique collecting capabilities and camera systems of the remotely operated vehicle, the Global Explorer, to continue studies of the deep-sea benthic environment in the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite some frustrations along the way, the expedition was a tremendous success, with several findings and plenty of specimens and data to comb through to reveal even more discoveries.

They also used some advanced hi-tech equipment, such as the Deep Sea Systems Global Explorer ROV and the Medusa lander, which is an upgrade of the Eye-in-the-Sea (EITS) system that gave the researchers phenomenal footage of deep-sea animals in their natural environments on previous expeditions. Unfortunately, despite several mechanisms to bring it back to the surface, Medusa didn’t return from its second deployment. If it stays missing, scientist will go looking for the lander on the seafloor.

Bioluminescence in the Deep Sea

In 2009, on an expedition funded by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER) to the Bahamas, a team of scientists explored the deep-sea benthic environment and looked for new sources of bioluminescence.

Bioluminescence is biologically produced light. While it is relatively rare on land, it is very common in the oceans, at least in the pelagic zone (the water column), where 80% of the animals that live between 200 and 1000 meters are bioluminescent.

“We were expecting similar results from the benthic zone (the ocean bottom), and were surprised to find that fewer than 20% of the species that we collected from the bottom were bioluminescent. However, this was the first systematic survey of bioluminescence in deep-sea benthic species, so this lack of bioluminescence may be specific to this location, and not a universal phenomenon,” says Tamara Frank of the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, Nova Southeastern University.

In 2015, in order to see whether benthic bioluminescence really is that much more rare than pelagic bioluminescence, on he scientists did similar studies at several sites in a completely different location – the Gulf of Mexico. They also took a close look at bioluminescent interactions, and the vision capabilities of deal-sea isopods.

A photo and video log, along with mission logs from participating researchers, is available at oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/15biolum/logs/photolog/photolog.html.

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