Norwegian scientists said yesterday they may have found several new species of marine life, including previously unknown fish and squids, after scouring the deep waters of the Atlantic Ocean in one of the most extensive marine expeditions in history.
Researchers on the MAR-ECO expedition, which has spent two months mapping the undersea ecosystem around the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the world's largest mountain range, said they found an unexpected diversity of marine life near the sea bottom, previously thought to be a largely desolate expanse.
Using highly advanced echo-sounders, robotic deep-sea vehicles and trawl nets, the expedition brought back more than 350 species of fish and squid.
At least five of those, including a deep-sea angler fish and two unusual squids, seem to be new species, they said. Many other species had never before been found near the ridge, which stretches more than 6,000km between Iceland and the Azores.
The researchers also found mysterious burrows left by an unknown animal on an undersea mountain 2,000m below the surface.
The MAR-ECO expedition, which included 60 scientists, students and technicians from 13 countries, also found rings of plankton organisms that measured 10km wide. The rings, which are produced by underwater currents, are the largest ever found, the statement said.
The Norwegian-led MAR-ECO expedition is a pilot project of the 10-year, US$1 billion Census of Marine Life project, an international research endeavor that aims to provide scientists with a better understanding of deep sea ecosystems, and explain how they change over time.
More than 300 scientists from 53 countries are involved in the census project.
"Investigations of marine life have just begun," Odd Aksel Bergstad, the lead scientist on the MAR-ECO expedition, said in a statement, "and it's only now, when we can utilize custom-built research ships and the finest modern technology, that we can learn how ecosystems in the oceans are structured and function."