Fossil fuel exploration or new species for The Southern Surveyor in deep sea canyons?

A CSIRO expedition set off from Hobart yesterday aboard The Southern Surveyor to explore the waters off the Bonney coast and Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Scientists hope to sample the creatures that live to a depth of up to 5km below the sea and also to determine whether oil and gas reserves may be present there.

The Voyage Plan released, discusses the details and objectives of the expedition. It explains that “off the Bonney coast – Kangaroo Is. numerous canyons exist that together with wind-forced upwelling near the coast, may provide nutrient and sediment paths between the deep ocean slope and the coast. The Bonney coast canyons are of particular importance because the area is being explored for hydrocarbons. Tar ball strandings along the Bonney coast may be transported up the canyons from natural leaks at the base of the slope. If proven, this may indicate oil bearing sediments buried in up to 4,000m deep water in this un-drilled region.”

Clare Peddie of The Advertiser, reported the Chief Scientist Dr David Currie from the SA Research and Development Institute as saying that “the deep water canyon systems are one of the final frontiers for marine exploration. Once we go to 100m depth our knowledge drops off significantly. Beyond the continental shelf we know virtually nothing.”

Peddie also quoted Dr Peter Boult from Primary Industries and Resources of SA as saying that he was looking for evidence of gas or oil seeping out of the rocks that are on the continental slope. He explained that “the tar balls are noted in historical documents from the early 1830s to have been used by the whalers for mending their boats. They found this stuff on the coast and used it for making their boats waterproof. But we don’t know where the material found on the beach comes from. It may be the currents are just right to bring it all the way from South America.”

In additional to this scientists will be conducting two “piggy back” projects examining the deep water invertebrate fauna existing in this area and to gain an understanding of the biodiversity, distribution and abundance of marine life in the oceans by undertaking genetic analysis of fish collected that will contribute to the “Census of Marine Life” project.

Any discoveries the expedition makes will be of importance in future management of the area as the canyons are “adjacent to and influence the productivity and biodiversity of two recently established Commonwealth Marine Reserves i.e. Murray and Nelson.”

In an interview on PM, Dr Currie said that he was ” confident they will discover new animal species as well, and from there, work out the ecology of these deep canyon systems and their importance to the productivity of southern Australian waters. The deeper you go in any of these systems, the less you know about them.” he said.

Such million dollar expeditions make sure that more is known of the ecology of these unexplored and hitherto pristine areas of the ocean so that decisions made to develop them for petrochemicals will be informed by adequate science.

Those who are interested in the details of the Voyage Plan may refer to the pdf here.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Tuesday, 5 February, 2008.

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