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Dr. Timothy Shank : Seamount Research

The cruise started in the Azores, off of Portugal, and went all the way to Woods Hole. At that time we covered over 7 seamounts from a range of depth from over 3,000 meters to 500 meters or so. We wanted to cover the range to learn the different habitats that may be. Try to see the diversity of life that's on these seamounts. It's very difficult. If you go to, think about Mt. Rainier. You're going to go to Mt. Rainier. You're going to go with a hot air balloon, at night, with a spotlight. And we want you to characterize the animals that might live on Mt. Rainier. In the trees and where they are and all that kind of thing. So OK, GO! You've got 24 hours, maybe even less than that. Very difficult to do and yet we pulled it off. We really pulled it off going to all these seamounts as stepping stones; mapping them, sampling them. When I think back on it, we did a lot of work.

Over the past decade or so, there's been much more work on Pacific seamounts than Atlantic seamounts. And one thing that came from our cruise in particular was, "What does it take to really understand and characterize the biology of a seamount." And I don't think it's been done anywhere and we made that observation and came to that conclusion on the cruise. There’s Pacific seamount. There's been much more coverage. Understand species distribution much better. But we still don't know some of the first order questions. "What's where? How does it get there? What's controlling that distribution?" We know that fisheries have been more prevalent in the Pacific which may have impacted the regional species pool in general. We know it's occurring in the Atlantic. We can characterize that now. We don't know really what effect that's had on the regional species pool.

There's so much work to be done. I feel like we're just scrapping the surface of both the Pacific and the Atlantic with these first order questions. What's there? We're mapping. We're going to infer from genetics. How they're getting from one side to another. Once we start peeling back the layers of the onion, we're going to have a much better sense of what's happening in both oceans. I don't think right now we can say anything categorically other than we know some seamounts have endemic fauna. Fauna that's only found there and very distinctive. Others have shared. I mean, we're just seeing patterns you know? We're just now trying to start to get to the process. So far, in the field of marine science, there are many model systems that have been used. That's basically been the inner title system where you can manipulate, do experiments, and those have been applied to the deep sea. I think what we're going to be learning in the years to come is that some of these deep sea environments like seamounts and vents, that are isolated and patchy, are going to be actual models in themselves that will be applied to the inner title. I think a lot of that's going to have to do with genetics. What we're able to gleam from these isolated populations and their evolutions. It's going to be a remarkable time for discovery because we're going to apply genomic techniques now. We are going to learn so much more quickly about these animals than we have before. It's going to a step, or rather, jump in our understanding of evolution in the deep sea. It's going to be in part based on genetic information we are able to get from these animals. That's going to come from genomic studies that are being done on microbial systems of all things. So it's a very exciting time to, not only explore things in our world, but to explore our research techniques as well. Like genomics.

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Dr. Timothy Shank Profile

 


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