Information on the Region
The Azores volcanic archipelago is located in the northeast Atlantic, above a tectonically active triple junction between the North American, Eurasian, and African plates and surrounded by abyssal plains deeper than 3000m. The unique geographic, oceanographic, and biological characteristics of the Azores, together with the already existing infrastructures in the archipelago, make the Azores a key location for a demonstration site for deep ocean observing. The area has numerous seamounts, deep fracture zones, trenches, and a considerable extension of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as well as abyssal areas (Peran et al., 2016). Located at the northeastern edge of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, the oceanographic conditions in the region are influenced by the Atlantic Meridional Overturning (AMOC), which has been identified as an important, but poorly understood, element of the Earth’s climate system (Amorin et al. 2017). In addition to the widespread hard and soft-bottom habitats, prominent vulnerable marine ecosystems in the region include deep-sea hydrothermal vents, sponge aggregations, cold water coral gardens and reefs, and extensive fields of xenophyophores (Morato et al. 2016).
Because of its unique setting in the proximity of diverse open-ocean and deep-sea habitats, the Azores are a strategic location to test Biodiversity and Ecosystem EOVs that are still in the concept phase for the deep-ocean. These include collecting data on ecosystem functioning, connectivity, and biodiversity (taxonomic, functional diversity) at multiple scales, from bacteria to top predators, and from Atlantic basin (amphi-Atlantic population connectivity) to large-scale migrations. Additionally, important is the surveillance of biological communities, e.g., monitoring of changes in species ranges, community composition, structure and turnover, larval dispersal, as well as detection of potential invasive species, trophic interactions between benthic and pelagic communities, related to global environmental change. As the Azores region is an area of strong Blue Growth opportunities that are reflected in a variety of activities in the deep-sea (fishing, bio-prospecting and mining), this joint DOOS-AtlantOS project would offer the possibility of monitoring/testing EOVs under the cumulative impacts of global (warming, acidification, deoxygenation, changes in POC) as well as local (fishing, mining) stressors.
There are numerous observing resources available in the Azores that could be integrated within the establishment of a demonstration site for deep ocean observing. The Azores hosts two fixed point observatories within the EMSO, with nodes at the Lucky Strike hydrothermal vent and, in the near future, a coral garden area in the Condor seamount. The observatories include numerous sensors (e.g., pH, temperature, salinity, oxygen, turbidity, ocean currents) to monitor the biogeochemical coupling of the benthos, water column, and atmosphere. The enhancement with additional sensors, e.g., for the collection of long-term data on carbon/biogeochemistry variables and ocean currents would provide much needed information on ocean change in relation to climate and AMOC patterns, complementing other observing activities in the North Atlantic. Observatory assets in the area would also offer an ideal setting to test new technology. The region offers a wide range of environmental conditions (e.g., corrosive conditions in hydrothermal vents, high pressure in abyssal areas) where the performance of technologies under development can be studied for application elsewhere in the world.
There are numerous Argo floats measuring physical properties to 2000 m, as well as OceanSITES moorings (RAPID array at 26.5°N), Repeat hydrography (GO-SHIP A5 (occupied in 2020), A16, A17, A25), and national research expeditions in and in the surrounding of the region. Other infrastructures available include passive and active acoustic devices for ocean acoustic tomography/thermometry, and tracking of instrumented marine mammals. Ifremer/France and Poland carry out deep-ocean observations as part of their exploration contracts to the south of the Azores.
Mapping of the deep seafloor is a key task addressed by skilled personnel in the area. A camera-based rapid appraisal program utilizes low-cost fishing vessels for surveys that involved more than 150 dives in 20 different areas. Partnerships could be built with other initiatives to apply new technologies (e.g., unmanned vehicles) that combine seafloor mapping with the collection of physical-chemical and biological data for an integrated characterization of deep-sea communities and ecosystems. Originally scheduled for summer 2020, NOAA OER plans ASPIRE expeditions in the vicinity of the Azores, to conduct mapping and exploration of the sea floor. This offers a valuable opportunity to develop strategies to integrate observing efforts with exploration activities.
Mobile deep-sea laboratories that host a wide range of relatively light-weight hydrographic, biogeochemical, optical and acoustic sensors for monitoring EOVs related to ecosystem functioning, as well as fixed biological survey equipment (e.g., benthic chambers, microprofilers, sediment traps, larval pumps) are already available and in use. The mobility of these platforms would allow for the collection of information in a variety of ecosystems and under different impact scenarios, e.g., areas with/without fishing mining or within the proximity of land infrastructures. Other infrastructures available include, remote platforms (e.g., vessels), receiving devices (and sources) for passive (and/or active) ocean acoustic tomography/thermometry, and instrumented marine mammals. Additionally, the area hosts an experimental laboratory with a large pressurized vessel that is used to investigate effects of environmental pressures on deep-sea organisms under deep-sea conditions.
Amorim, P., Perán, A. D., Pham, C. K., Juliano, M., Cardigos, F., Tempera, F., & Morato, T. (2017) Overview of the Ocean Climatology and its Variability in the Azores Region of the North Atlantic Including Environmental Characteristics at the Seabed, 4(Pt A), 104–16, doi:10.3389/fmars.2017.00056
Colaço, A., Blandin, J., Cannat, M., Carval, T., Chavagnac, V., Connelly, D., Fabian, M., Ghiron, S., Goslin, J., Miranda, J. M., Reverdin, G., Sarrazin, J., Waldmann, C., and Sarradin, M (2011) MoMAR-D: a technological challenge to monitor the dynamics of the Lucky Strike vent ecosystem. – ICES Journal of Marine Science, 68: 416–424, doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsq075
Morato, T., Lemey, E., Menezes, G., Pham, C. K., Brito, J., Soszynski, A., et al. (2016) Food-Web and Ecosystem Structure of the OpenOcean and Deep-Sea Environments of the Azores, NE Atlantic, 3, 4–13, doi:10.3389/fmars.2016.00245
Peran A. D., Pham C. K., Amorim P., Cardigos F., Tempera F., Morato T. (2016) Seafloor Characteristics in the Azores Region (North Atlantic), Frontiers in Marine Science 3: 214, doi:10.3389/fmars.2016.00204