May 4, 2006

Scientists find new species in Atlantic

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Scientists have found about 10-20 new
species of tiny creatures in the depths of the Atlantic in a
survey that will gauge whether global warming may harm life in
the oceans, an international report said on Thursday.

The survey, of tropical waters between the eastern United
States and the mid-Atlantic ridge, used special nets to catch
fragile zooplankton -- animals such as shrimp, jellyfish and
swimming worms -- at lightless depths of 1-5 km (0.6-3 miles).

"This was a voyage of exploration ... the deepest parts of
the oceans are hardly ever sampled," said Peter Wiebe, the
cruise's scientific leader and senior scientist at the Woods
Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States.

"We found perhaps 10-20 new species of zooplankton," he
said of the 20-day voyage by 28 scientists from 14 nations in

Most life, including commercial fish stocks, is in the top
1 km of water, but the scientists said the survey showed a
surprising abundance even in the depths. The survey will
provide a benchmark to judge future changes to the oceans.

New finds among thousands of zooplankton species caught
included six types of ostracods, a shrimp-like creature, and
other species of zooplankton such as swimming snails and worms.

Zooplankton are animals swept by ocean currents, mostly
millimeters-long but ranging up to jellyfish trailing long

Among 120 types of fish caught, the scientists found what
may be a new type of black dragonfish, with fang-like teeth,
growing up to about 40 cm (15 inches), and a 20-cm-long great
swallower, with wide jaws and a light-producing organ to
attract prey.

"By 2010, the research ... will provide a baseline against
which future generations can measure changes to the zooplankton
and their provinces, caused by pollution, over-fishing, climate
change, and other shifting environmental conditions," said Ann
Bucklin, lead scientist for the zooplankton census project at
the University of Connecticut.


Most scientists believe the planet is warming because of a
build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mainly from human
burning of fossil fuels in power plants, vehicles and factories
since the Industrial Revolution.

The oceans absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide but the
process raises levels of carbonic acid in the seas. That
build-up could threaten marine life, for instance by making it
harder for crabs or oysters to build shells.

Zooplankton are a key to transporting carbon dioxide to the
depths because they can swim 500 meters (yards) up and down
daily. Many species eat their own weight every day in plant
phytoplankton species near the surface.

By one estimate, 10,000 kg (22,000 lb) of plant
phytoplankton is needed to feed 1,000 kg of small zooplankton.

The expedition was funded by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and used NOAA ship Ronald H.
Brown. The findings are also part of a wider Census of Marine
Life trying to map the oceans.

Scientists from Argentina, Australia, Britain, Canada,
China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Spain,
Switzerland, Turkey and the United States took part.