Skip to main content

The Deep Sea & Sub-Seafloor Frontier

Final Report Summary - DS3F (The deep sea and sub-seafloor frontier)

Executive summary:

The 'Deep-sea and sub-seafloor frontier' (DS3F) project brings together scientists from Europe's major ocean research centres and universities to identify the primary issues that need to be addressed in sub-seafloor sampling with relevance to deep-sea ecosystems, climate change, geohazards, and marine resources in the next 10-15 years. It is aiming to provide a pathway towards sustainable management of oceanic resources in the broadest sense on a European scale and to develop sub-seafloor sampling strategies for enhanced understanding of deep-sea and sub-seafloor processes by connecting marine research in life and geosciences, climate and environmental change, with socio-economic issues and policy building. Based on the above, a structure of nine Work package (WP)s was set up. They include three WPs focusing on life sciences (WP1 through 3) and another three leaning towards geosciences (WPs 4 through 6). The six WPs are bracketed by two others, WP7 and WP8, which address what infrastructural requirements exist in order to reach the objectives of the former 6 WPs. Everything is held together by a ninth WP comprising the management, outreach, and interfacing between science and policymaking.

The outcome of 8 expert workshops and two larger meetings in Brussels and Sitges during the 30-month coordination action can be summarised as follows:

The deep sea and its sub-seafloor contain a vast reservoir of physical, mineral and biological resources that are rapidly coming into the window of exploitation. Assessing the opportunities and the risks involved requires a serious commitment to excellent deep sea research.

There are numerous areas in this field in which Europe has cutting-edge technological potential. These include drilling and monitoring technology in the field of renewable energies such as geothermal, offshore wind and seafloor resources. Scientific ocean drilling will continue to play a valuable role, for example in the exploration of resource opportunities, in obtaining estimates for ecosystem and Earth climate sensitivity, or in improving understanding about the controlling factors governing processes and recurrence intervals of submarine geohazards.

In Europe, there is also the scientific expertise needed to define a framework for policymakers for environmental protection measures and to carry out ecological impact assessments before, during and after commercial exploitation. Taking up these societal challenges will strengthen European scientific and educational networks and promote the development of world-class technology and industrial leadership.

Project context and objectives:

The Deep-Sea and Sub-Seafloor Frontier project (DS3F) brings together scientists from Europe's major ocean research centres and universities to identify the primary issues that need to be addressed in sub-seafloor sampling with relevance to deep-sea ecosystems, climate change, geohazards, and marine resources in the next 10-15 years. This group has evolved from the Deep sea frontier (DSF) international symposium (June 2006), which was organised in the framework of the European Union (EU)-funded project ECORD-NET (an ERA-NET). With the proposed coordination action related to the use of drilling and sub-seafloor sampling we define strategies and research challenges in deep-sea environments to aim towards a better predictive capacity of the response of deep-sea ecosystems to environmental change. Such an approach is becoming important as man's influence on these remote environments is escalating through activities such as fishing, hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, mineral extraction and bioprospecting, and overprinted by climate change and pollution.

The DS3F coordination and support action (hereafter CSA) is aiming to provide a pathway towards sustainable management of oceanic resources in the broadest sense on a European scale. It will develop sub-seafloor sampling strategies for enhanced understanding of deep-sea and sub-seafloor processes by connecting marine research in life and geosciences, climate and environmental change, with socio-economic issues and policy building. A long-term research approach will be established covering: (i) sustainable ocean management, particularly the deep sea, with enhanced exploitation (fishery, hydrocarbon exploration), (ii) the necessity to unravel the deep-seated geological processes that drive seafloor ecosystems, and (iii) release of the potential of seabed archives for paleo-environmental reconstruction and improved prediction of future climate change.

Sub-seafloor drilling and sampling provide two key aspects for understanding how deep-sea ecosystems presently function and how they may respond to global change: (a) an inventory of current subsurface processes and biosphere, and their links to surface ecosystems, utilising seafloor observation and baseline studies and (b) a high resolution archive of past variations in environmental conditions and biodiversity. For both aspects, an international effort is needed to maximise progress by sharing knowledge, ideas and technologies, including mission-specific platforms to increase the efficiency, coverage and effectiveness of sub-seafloor sampling and exploration.

Based on the above, a structure of nine WPs was set up. They include three WPs focusing on life sciences (WP1 through 3) and another three leaning towards geosciences (WP4 through 6). The six WPs are bracketed by two others, WP7 and WP8, which address what infrastructural requirements exist in order to reach the objectives of the former 6 WPs. Everything is held together by a ninth WP comprising the management, outreach, and interfacing between science and policymaking.

The CSA develops the most efficient use of subseafloor sampling techniques and existing marine infrastructure to study the geosystem, its effects on the deep biosphere and marine ecosystems, and provides a comprehensive 'white paper' for a sustainable use of the oceans and a strong, resource-efficient Europe.

The DS3F completed a series of 8 ad-hoc workshops in various fields of marine sciences during the first reporting period (M1-18). The reports of those WSs, which represented the themes of WP1 through 8, were major deliverables of the first phase of the CSA and were made available on the project's website. They further built the foundation for the overarching workshop of all WPs in Brussels in November 2011. Here, an expert group from each WP gathered for three days together with representatives from the European Commission (EC), funding agencies, governmental and non-governmental organisations, etc. to condense the findings of the 8 workshops towards a more easily digestible position paper. The 3-day-workshop was held at the KDM office in Brussels and included a comprehensive discussion of regional goals in future marine (with special attention to deep sea) research as well as a steering committee meeting to proceed with the planning of the large DS3F conference in Sitges in spring 2011.

In parallel to the work on the DS3F 'white paper', which followed the Brussels WS, the group prepared for the Sitges conference in March 2012. A website was set up, which was linked to the DS3F website. Travel support was offered to young scientists and other cases eligible for financial support to attend. The number of attendees was limited to 250, although there was more demand. It was mandatory for each attendee to submit an abstract and actively contribute to the meeting, either by oral presentation, poster presentation, or as active member of the steering committee.

In the end, a total of 260 participants from the majority of the European countries, Russia, Japan, United States and Canada were coming to Sitges for an enjoyable, very interesting scientific conference. Nine keynote lectures, 41 oral presentations and 155 posters were presented, and the meeting was wrapped up with a presentation by EC project officer Ana-Teresa Caetano and a plenary discussion led by coordinator Achim Kopf. The main objectives were future funding opportunities for the sub-seafloor community within the upcoming EU framework programme Horizon 2020 and how the key issues should be addressed by the DS3F community in their evolving 'white paper'. A short summary is given in the ECORD newsletter article we wrote to reach out.

In addition, some account of what has been achieved during the Sitges meeting is reflected by a slide show (still running on the project website) as well as the transfer of the entire conference website to the DS3F website (see http://www.deep-sea-frontier.eu online for further details).

The main deliverable of DS3F was supposed to be a position paper on the main tasks and directions deep sea research should take over the next decade or two. This DS3F 'white paper' follows (appendix 2). From the initial six themes in the field of bio-geosciences, four major topics have been identified as most crucial: climate, ecosystems, geohazards and resources. These topics are the backbone of the DS3F 'white paper' and will illuminate Earth in its deepest portion, above as well as below the surface, and show prominent parallels to the ESF marine board position papers, or the new IODP science plan. The 'white paper'is the condensate of 8 ad-hoc workshops, to which essentially all available experts in the various fields of deep sea research participated or contributed. Joint sessions with IODP panels of the Science Advisory structure or participation of stakeholders, policymakers, and users were realised during these workshops (phase 1: M1-18) and the WP-overarching WS in Brussels (see above). Thereafter, smaller expert groups provided chapters to the DS3F 'white paper', which were refined by the 'white paper' writing group. In essence, the take-home message from that document can be condensed into three small paragraphs:

The deep sea and its sub-seafloor contain a vast reservoir of physical, mineral and biological resources that are rapidly coming into the window of exploitation. Assessing the opportunities and the risks involved requires a serious commitment to excellent deep sea research.

There are numerous areas in this field in which Europe has cutting-edge technological potential. These include drilling and monitoring technology in the field of renewable energies such as geothermal, offshore wind and seafloor resources. Scientific ocean drilling will continue to play a valuable role, for example in the exploration of resource opportunities, in obtaining estimates for ecosystem and Earth climate sensitivity, or in improving understanding about the controlling factors governing processes and recurrence intervals of submarine geohazards.

In Europe, there is also the scientific expertise needed to define a framework for policymakers for environmental protection measures and to carry out ecological impact assessments before, during and after commercial exploitation. Taking up these societal challenges will strengthen European scientific and educational networks and promote the development of world-class technology and industrial leadership.

During phase 2 of the CSA (M19-30), steering committee meetings were held in Brussels (Nov 2011), Sitges (Mar 2012), and Vienna (Apr 2012), so that we count a total of 7 steering committee meetings during the 30-month project.

Compared to the earlier plan, no separate workshop was held on science-policy interfacing (i.e. WP 9). This was agreed upon by the steering committee because the societal relevance and how it is communicated and implemented with decision makers was tackled during the 8 ad-hoc workshops already. In order to avoid repetition, the suggestion to skip such a workshop and instead have a prominent chapter on societal challenges in the 'white paper' was accepted by the EC project manager in charge. For the realisation of this task, see final chapter of the 'white paper'.

Project results:

There are no primary scientific and technological results to be expected from a coordination action, such as DS3F. On the other hand, substantial scientific knowledge has been exuded both in the 8 workshop reports on WP level (all available as downloads from the project website, and also submitted with the period report in 2011), and - more so - in the DS3F 'white paper' (uploaded with the final report of this project). The position paper will also be available for download on the project website, which will be kept active for the years to come. Since none of the reports are shorter than 25 pages, we refer to those attachments and keep this section brief.

Potential impact:

Over the course of the initial 18 months of the CSA, several measures were undertaken to get the word out regarding DS3F and its strategic role and scientific challenges.

In addition to the already mentioned presentations at scientific conferences, we had a DS3F booth at two of them: The EurOcean 2010 meeting at Ostend and the EGU assembly 2011 at Vienna. In either case, the DSF brochure from 2007, the DSF foresight paper from 2009, and two articles about the DS3F CSA published recently.

The aforementioned two articles to increase the outreach of DS3F were a 1-page feature in the ECORD Newsletter No. 13 (November 2009 issue, p.20) written by Kopf, and a 3-page feature in International Innovation special issue Environment in October 2010 (p.76-78) including some key facts about DS3F plus an interview with the coordinator.

The recognition of DS3F activities is substantial, as can be seen from invited talks at EurOcean 2010 in Ostend or at the ESFRI conference in Brest in 2011. Also, the session at EGU 2011 was well attended and had a more than fair number of abstract submissions.

This session also attracted a film team, Rachel Seddoh (editor) and Luc Riolon (camera, sound), who work for the EC, arte and other TV stations in Europe and Canada to realise a 90 minute documentary on gas hydrate research and, more broadly speaking, how marine studies are planned, funded, and carried out. DS3F holds the plot together and DS3F researchers represent some of the protagonists when the film team is joining them on various research expeditions. The feature will be cut in summer / fall 2012 and coincidentally will be and screened at a time when the 'white paper' will be available after the CSA will be finished.

Synergistic activities of DS3F researchers also include their contributions at various meetings and panels (e.g. Kopf serving on the MARCOM+ technology panel, Mienert and Weaver serving as advisors in the Expert Group on Marine Research Infrastructure by the DG RTD of the EC, etc.).

Over the course of the final 12 months of the CSA, several measures were undertaken to get the word out regarding DS3F and its strategic role and scientific challenges.

We had a DS3F booth at the EGU assembly 2012 at Vienna (Fig. 3), and also organised a DS3F Townhall meeting. For this conference, we had flyers printed which found much interest among the > 10 000 participants of the EGU conference. At the Townhall meeting, we had five short talks to a general scientific audience, which were extremely well attended and stimulated discussion well beyond the allocated time window set by the conference organiser.

Given the fact that many geoscientists may not have heard about the DSF before, we had a well-attended lecture hall The three articles to increase the outreach of DS3F were two 1-page features in the ECORD Newsletter No. 17 (October 2011 issue, p.18-19) written by Kopf & Mevel and No. 18 (April 2012 issue, p.14) written by Kopf & Canals. In addition, a 3-page feature in Projects Magazine in fall 2012 (in press) including some key facts about DS3F and the 'white paper'.

Although there is no direct scientific outcome out of the DS3F CSA, it was decided at the Sitges Conference that a GeoMarineLetters Special issue with scientific articles of contributions by scientists who attended the meeting would further increase the outreach of our effort. Springer, the scientific publishing company, was approached and a volume with manuscripts is currently in the making.

Synergistic activities of DS3F researchers also include their contributions at various meetings and panels (e.g. Kopf serving on the MARCOM+ technology panel, Mienert and Weaver serving as advisors in the expert group on marine research infrastructure by the DG RTD of the EC, etc.).

List of websites: http://www.deep-sea-frontier.eu

Related documents