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Published on Nov 11, 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 have studied the animal communities at Station M for over 20 years. This video consists of still images taken once an hour for several months during Fall 2012. It shows one of the biggest naturally occurring "food drops" documented at Station M since measurements began in 1989.
Researchers have long been puzzled because the amount of food that sinks down from above does not seem adequate to support all the animals and microbes that live in the sediment. However, new research shows that occasional huge blooms of microscopic algae at the ocean surface can send blizzards of food to the deep seafloor.
The video starts with sea cucumbers, urchins, and other animals crawling around the gray deep-sea 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 half way through the video, this dead algae covers so much of the sea floor that the bottom looks dark.
After the fall of algae, pinkish-orange sea cucumbers and other small animals move around the seafloor, eating this algae. Any "leftover" algae is buried in the sediments and can be eaten years to decades later.