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Research Objectives

Geological processes shape the ocean floor and result in vastly different environments, including

  • mid-ocean ridges where new ocean floor forms,
  • subduction zones where old ocean floor is transferred back into the Earth’s interior,
  • cold seeps and hot vents, both of which release fluids and gases from within the ocean floor, and
  • vast areas and volumes of sediment, which register the history of the ocean and climate.
Key processes involving the ocean floor and their links to the Research Units of the Cluster
Key processes involving the ocean floor and their links to the Research Units of the Cluster: Biologically mediated transfer of carbon to and its transformation at the ocean floor, and exchange between the shelf and open ocean will be studied in the RECEIVER Unit (green), element fluxes and budgets across the ocean-floor / water interface in the REACTOR Unit (orange), and information on warm climates and environmental conditions of the past in the RECORDER Unit (blue) (DOM / POM: dissolved / particulate organic matter). The Cluster will generate a new understanding of how geochemical, climate, and geodynamic forcing affect ocean-floor processes and their connections to the Earth system.

It is now evident that the ocean floor and its biological communities are anything but static. Life at and within the ocean floor is surprisingly diverse despite the absence of light and other energy limitations, but it is not easily observed nor probed. The ocean-floor ecosystems extend up to 2.5 kilometers beneath the seabed, and are fueled by inadequately explored metabolic processes. More than 80 % of volcanic activity on the Earth occurs on the ocean floor and the volume of seawater circulating through the ocean floor rivals the discharge of all the rivers on the planet. Therefore, the ocean floor is a major driver of our planet’s global element cycles, biogeochemistry, and climate.

Many aspects of the ocean floor have been investigated in recent decades from a monodisciplinary perspective; at the same time, the investigations have been limited by available techniques and technology for the acquisition of data and samples at the ocean floor. Given the key role of the ocean floor in regulating the cycles of carbon and other elements and its impact on global biogeochemical cycles and climate, the time is ripe to quantify the impact of ocean-floor processes on element cycles at a global scale through an interdisciplinary research approach. Addressing this great challenge will profoundly expand the knowledge base for more reliable assessments of the potential effects of natural and human-induced perturbations at the ocean floor.

As one of the world’s leading hubs for marine-based Earth-system research, we will apply our interdisciplinary expertise, technology and infrastructure to systematically explore the function of the ocean floor within the Earth system. We will characterize and quantify key processes that are responsible for the transfer of matter and its transformation, and use marine sediment archives to constrain the rates and sensitivities of these processes to global changes and perturbations.

Research Objectives

1 To understand the processes that transform the properties and fluxes of biogenic particles on their transit to the ocean floor under changing climate conditions.
2 To quantify fluxes of carbon and other elements to and across the ocean floor and estimate their budgets under current and past states of the Earth system.
3 To generate an in-depth understanding of how the structure and state of ocean-floor ecosystems are interrelated with local-scale biogeochemical processes and other environmental conditions.
4 To derive scenarios for ›warmer worlds‹ through comprehensive decoding of environmental signals from past warm climate conditions as recorded in ocean-floor archives.
5 To design and implement novel methods and technology for ocean-floor observation and probing, ultra-sensitive chemical analyses, and an Earth-system modeling framework that includes ocean-floor dynamics.
6 To provide impartial knowledge of ocean-floor processes both to engage the public and to guide decision-making within the framework of environmental protection and sustainable use of the ocean.