Deep Sea

Specialist Expertise

MESL have provided support to the offshore oil and gas industry and have played a central role in UK’s largest and most prestigious deep sea mining exploration projects. MESL conduct first class benthic sample, image and spatial data analysis in nacent and emerging fields. Our range of skills and expertise includes:

  • Environmental characterisation of deep sea video and stills
  • Identification of deep benthic and epibenthic fauna
  • Community analysis and data interpretation
  • Seabed mapping and spatial analysis
  • Identification of sensitive environmental resources
MESL is listed as the primary contractor for environmental services in the National Subsea Research Initiative UK Subsea Mining Capability Statement. For more information, please look here.

Laboratory Capability

In recent years MESL has commissioned a series of training courses specifically targeting deep sea faunal identification that were attended by all the laboratory staff. These courses were run by leading experts in their fields and included Deep Sea Amphipod Identification run by Dr Tammy Horton and Mike Thurston of the National Oceanography Centre, Deep Sea African Bivalve Identification run by Dr Graham Oliver, and Deep Sea and African Cumacean Identification run by Dr Salma Shalla. Additionally, out in-house laboratory staff have all spent several days at the Natural History Museum in London working with the museum’s specialists in a bespoke Deep Sea African Fauna Identification workshop held specifically for MESL. As such, MESL possesses a unique and highly specialised knowledge of deep sea fauna identification. Recent project examples from deep sea environments that the MESL laboratory has worked on include:

  • Samples from the Northern Norwegian Sea from depths of between 1,136 and 1,226m in an area where limited development to date has occurred. The purpose of the survey was to create an environmental baseline at two proposed well locations (PWL) and to verify that the mitigation zone around the PWLs were free from “good” or “excellent” condition coral reefs, sponge aggregation or other sensitive habitats or species. Samples were taken with a box core by Gardline Geosurvey Limited (GGL) and MESL was commissioned by GGL to undertake all of the faunal analysis from these samples in accordance with the Norwegian M300 guidelines.
  • MESL was commissioned by GGL to undertake faunal analysis of box core samples taken from oil and gas extraction areas Almond A, Almond B, Pecan A and Pecan B from offshore Ghana. Sampling depths varied between 1,500 and 3,000m. At total of 78 samples were analysed and fauna from all major taxonomic groups identified.
  • MESL undertook faunal analysis of a set of samples from depths between 540 and 1,145m depth from Benin. The project was commissioned by GGL and was targeting oil and gas extraction sites in the area.
  • Samples were processed for IMAREST from a project commissioned by Chevron targeting an area of the Faroe Shetland trench from depths of approximately 1,100m. All faunal analysis of these samples covering all major taxonomic  groups was undertaken by MESL staff. 

Deep Sea Mining

MESL has been involved with the NERC funded MarineE-tech project since conception through the National Oceanography Centre (NOCS). The project is looking to understand how raw elements used in modern electronic appliances occur in natural systems, and how industry might minimise the environmental impacts of extraction. The research programme headed by NOCS has is divided between two primary objectives:

  • To understand the natural cycling of cobalt, tellurium and the rare-earth elements in a marine environment.
  • To reduce the environmental impacts of metal recovery from seafloor mineral deposits. 

To meet these objectives, an  international, multidisciplinary consortium comprising universities, research centres and industry contributors including MESL has been established. As part of the MarineE-tech project, MESL are providing a high-level environmental characterisation of the habitats and taxa found across the Tropic sea mount during a research cruise conducted aboard the RRS James Cook.

In addition to the characterisation of habitats present through a series of spatial analysis exercises, MESL are undertaking a series of sensitivity assessments incorporating information pertaining to the taxa identified from the stills and video analysis. This project represents a unique chance for MESL to assess what faunal communities are found in the Canary Isle Seamount Province and to determine what impact mineral extraction is likely to have on the species present in element-rich volcanic environments.

To read more about the MarineE-tech project please click here.

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