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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 9:47 EDT

Feast and Famine on the Abyssal Plain

November 12, 2013

This video shows a time-lapse view of a small patch of muddy seafloor, 4,000 meters below the ocean surface, at a deep-sea research site called Station M. Researchers at MBARI and elsewhere have studied the animal communities at Station M for over 20 years.

The researchers have been perplexed because, for most of this time, the amount of food that sinks down from above is not enough to support all the animals and microbes that live in the sediment. However, they recently discovered that occasional huge blooms of microscopic algae at the ocean surface can send blizzards of food to the deep seafloor.

This time-lapse video starts with sea cucumbers, urchins, and other animals crawling around the gray seafloor mud. Over a period of weeks, the mud becomes covered with a brownish green coating of dead algae that sank down from the sunlit surface waters. By the end of the video, you can see how much of this algae has been consumed by animals and microbes in the sediment.

Credit: MBARI