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Outreach

Public Lecture on Deep-Sea Corals Takes Audience “Into the Abyss”



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U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research oceanographer Nancy Prouty took her audience into the ocean depths for a look at deep-sea coral communities in a public lecture titled “Into the Abyss: Living Without Light” on June 26, 2014, at the USGS center in Menlo Park, California.

Nancy Prouty gives a public lecture on deep-sea corals
Above: Nancy Prouty gives a public lecture on deep-sea corals titled “Into the Abyss: Living Without Light” on June 26, 2014, at the USGS center in Menlo Park, California. USGS photograph by Helen Gibbons. [larger version]

Prouty enchanted her audience with images of deep-sea corals and the diverse community of animals that live with them in the dark, cold, high-pressure environment of the deep sea—a region where scientists once thought life could not exist. She showed video footage of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) collecting samples deep in the ocean and being recovered onto the deck of a research vessel, which gave viewers a feel for how information about deep-sea corals is gathered. Her brief overview of deep-sea exploration over the past century demonstrated how human understanding of the deep-sea environment has changed over time, and how much we have yet to explore.

As a scientist at the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, California, Prouty analyzes coral skeletons to interpret how physical and chemical conditions in the ocean have changed throughout the lifespan of the coral. She studies both shallow-water corals (for example, see “Coral Reefs Along West-Central Guam—Historical Impact of Watershed Change and Sedimentation,” this issue) and the deep-sea corals that were the subject of her June lecture.

The deep-sea corals pictured here (Lophelia pertusa) provide habitat for many other organisms
A piece of black coral; the skeleton is black, the living tissue orange
Above: Like an old-growth forest, the deep-sea corals pictured here (Lophelia pertusa) provide habitat for many other organisms, including the Galatheid crab in center of photo. View the archived lecture video from which this screenshot was taken. [larger version]

Below: A piece of black coral (the skeleton is black, the living tissue orange) collected during a research cruise in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 2009. These deep-sea corals grow very slowly and can live for hundreds, even thousands, of years. (Learn more in Sound Waves article “ Long-Lived, Slow-Growing Corals in Deep Waters of the Gulf of Mexico .”) Photograph by Steve Ross, research professor at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, Center for Marine Science. [larger version]

Prouty’s talk emphasized the following points:

  • Deep-sea coral communities are biological hotspots that are among the most diverse and productive on Earth.
  • As slow-growing and long-living animals, deep-sea corals are windows to the past.
  • Because deep-sea corals are sensitive to both natural events and human activities, studying them is important to promoting healthy ecosystems.

The talk ended with a question-and-answer session, and many audience members lingered to speak to Prouty and examine her deep-sea coral specimens. An archived video of the lecture is posted on the USGS Evening Public Lecture Series webpage.

To learn more about Prouty’s deep-sea coral studies, view the following Sound Waves articles: “Deep-Sea Corals Record Human Impact on Watershed Quality in the Mississippi River Basin ,” “Coral Gardens: Forests of the Deep Mission Log, May 11, 2013,” and “Long-Lived, Slow-Growing Corals in Deep Waters of the Gulf of Mexico.”

Prouty’s work is part of the USGS Diversity, Systematics and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems (DISCOVRE) Project.


Related Sound Waves Stories
Deepwater Canyon Study Among Projects Given Prestigious DOI Partners in Conservation Award
Jan. / Feb. 2014
Deep-Sea Corals Record Human Impact on Watershed Quality in the Mississippi River Basin
Jan. / Feb. 2014
Coral Gardens: Forests of the Deep Mission Log, May 11, 2013
May / June 2013
Long-Lived, Slow-Growing Corals in Deep Waters of the Gulf of Mexico
March 2011

Related Websites
Into the Abyss
USGS Evening Public Lecture Series
Diversity, Systematics and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems (DISCOVRE)
USGS
Deep-sea coral Lophelia website
Lophelia.org
NOAA Okeanos Explorer
NOAA
Deepwater Canyons 2013: Pathways to the Abyss
NOAA
Deepwater Canyons: Pathways to the Abyss
Deepwater Canyons on Wordpress
Nautilus Live: Explore the ocean LIVE with Dr. Robert Ballard and the Corps of Exploration
Nautilus Live
KQED Video: Exploring Corals of the Deep
KQED
NOAA Habitat Conservation
NOAA

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in this issue:

Spotlight on Sandy
USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal

New Tide Gage/Weather Station Near Mashpee, Massachusetts

Oceanographic Gear Retrieved from Offshore of Fire Island, New York

Research
Coral Reefs Along West-Central Guam—Historical Impacts

Geologic Evidence of Past Tsunamis in California

Outreach
USGS Helps Celebrate the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Public Lecture on Deep-Sea Corals Takes Audience “Into the Abyss”

Meetings
USGS Gas Hydrates Project Hosts Japanese Colleagues

Use-Case Training for the Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Research Community

Spring 2014 Monterey Bay Marine GIS User Group Meeting

Publications
July / August Publications

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