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Akma 3: Mud Volcano Discovery in Barents Sea

Ocean Census scientists, Professor Alex Rogers and Denise Swanborn, and colleagues on the AKMA3 oceanographic expedition, have discovered a rare find; the second ever mud volcano within Norwegian waters, the Borealis Mud Volcano.

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Ocean Census is participating in the expedition to discover life living on the seafloor including around methane-rich, cold seeps, at 100 to 500 metre depths, so the unique habitat of the crater is an ideal discovery, as it hosts a rich community of seabed life, which will provide further clues to help scientists build The Tree of Life. Its discovery is a massive boost to the Ocean Census team who aim to find 100,000 new species in the next decade. 

Life in the crater includes sea anemones, sponges, carnivorous sponges, sea stars, corals, sea spiders and crustaceans. Within the crater, there are also areas of extensive bacteria mats and tube worms.

The expedition, led by UiT, The Arctic University of Norway, in partnership with REV Ocean, came across the unusual geological phenomenon on 7 May in the Southwestern Barents Sea at the outer part of Bjørnøyrenna (Outer Bear Island Trough), approximately 70 nautical miles south of Bear Island and at 400m deep. 

The scientists are onboard the research vessel Kronprins Haakon and were using a piloted submersible vehicle – Rev Ocean’s ROV Aurora – when they spotted the volcano, which rests inside a crater that is approximately 300m wide and 25m deep. They believe it is most likely the result of a catastrophic, natural blow out that abruptly released massive methane just after the last glaciation period, 18,000 years ago. Currently, the Borealis Mud Volcano, which is approximately seven metres in diameter and 2.5 metres high, continuously emits fluids rich in methane. Understanding the fluids’ composition and evolution will help scientists comprehend the potential impact on the global methane budget. 

Alex Rogers, Science Director, Ocean Census, said: “During this expedition we have discovered that these blow-out craters are unique refuges from human impacts like trawling for fragile marine animals such as corals and sponges.”

Professor Giuliana Panieri, expedition leader and Principal Investigator of the AKMA project, said: “It is thanks to collaborative team teamwork and advanced technology that these results can be achieved. Seeing in real time an underwater mud eruption reminded me how “alive” our planet is”.

Professor Stefan Buenz, expedition co-leader, said “ Exploring the ocean floor and discovering new methane seeps is like finding hidden treasures. It’s full of surprises. We have found thousands of seeps. Yet, every time we go down to the ocean floor, we come away with a feeling that we are just beginning to understand the vastness and incredible diversity of seep systems.”

The international research team onboard know of only one other mud volcano in existence in Norwegian waters, the Håkon Mosby Mud Volcano discovered in 1995. This lies at 1250m deep on the seafloor south of Svalbard at 72°N. These peculiar features are direct windows into the Earth’s interior, since they erupt predominantly water and fine sediments from depths of several hundred metres to a few kilometres, providing a window into past environments. 

The team returned to shore on 10 May, after a twelve-day mission in the Barents Sea. 

More about AKMA
Advancing Knowledge about Methane in the Arctic, is a research project funded by Norwegian Research Council and led by the UiT – The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø. The AKMA aims to develop a long-term, multidisciplinary education and research collaboration focused on Arctic methane sources, processes, ecosystems and geological history to provide exceptional training for the next generation of experts in Arctic marine sciences and greenhouse gas phenomena.

The AKMA3 oceanographic expedition has a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and students onboard, and is part of the Advancing Knowledge of Methane in the Arctic, a project funded by the Norwegian Research Council, which includes the following partners: WHOI Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US, La Rochelle Université France, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca in Italy, Universidade de Aveiro and CESAM in  Portugal, Centre for Deep Sea Research and Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Bergen in Norway, Ocean Census and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate



REV Ocean
REV Ocean is a not-for-profit company created with one overarching purpose and ambition: To make the ocean healthy again. We help improve understanding of the ocean, get key stakeholders – decision-makers, researchers, business and civil society – aligned with that understanding and turn that knowledge into concrete solutions. Any profit generated from projects will be reinvested into work for a healthier ocean. The company was established in 2017 and is funded by Norwegian businessman Kjell Inge Røkke.

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