Health and Environment|

Research results reveal Marianas Trench is carbon sink

Groundbreaking research into the oceans’ deepest point reveals trenches in the ocean floor are acting as vast ‘carbon sinks’.

An international team of marine scientists aided by a state-of-the-art submersible have probed the secrets of the seven mile deep Marianas Trench, the world’s deepest underwater canyon. Early results suggest ocean trenches are acting as vast carbon sinks, playing a bigger role in regulating the planet’s climate and chemistry than was previously believed.

The deepest point of the massive canyon, the Challenger Deep, was approached using unmanned underwater vehicles robust enough to withstand the immense water pressure of more than 1,000 atmospheres. Lead researcher Prof Ronnie Glud stated this had been challenging but that modern technology had made it possible.

Prof Glud, of the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the University of Southern Denmark, told news reporters the sophisticated instruments now available had made it possible to measure the amount of carbon buried at the deepest point.
Working with scientists from the UK, Germany and Japan, Prof Glud used a titanium cylinder packed with sensors pre-programmed for experiments and able to resist the enormous pressure.

The experiments studied organic matter settling on the sea bed and differentiated by bing either degraded by bacteria or buried. The ratio between degraded and buried material determines the oxygen and CO2 content of the atmosphere and oceans and gives an overall picture of the efficiency of the ocean in capturing carbon. Results strongly suggest the deep sea trenches act as independent high activity sediment traps much more efficiently than the shallower ocean floors.

The next stage will be to evaluate the results and quantify the amount of carbon stored in the deep-sea trenches as against the ocean floor levels and the rate of carbon turnover by bacteria. According to the research team, once the figures are obtained they will be able to better establish the ocean trenches’ role in determining the world’s weather.

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