Ocean Threats and Benefits

The challenge

The ocean floor is a constantly evolving membrane between the hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere. It separates the world we experience from the solid Earth below. Shaped by its long-term memory of Earth processes, it is the critical interface where geology, climate, ecosystems, and human activities converge. Here, interactions between rocks, magma, microbes, higher organisms and fluids provide us with marine resources, regulate global biogeochemical cycles, and threaten us with natural hazards. Turning towards the ocean to meet future demands in high value natural chemicals, raw materials and energy, humans are changing the ocean floor at rates unprecedented in the geological record.

A responsible and sustainable use of resources and mitigation of geohazards require an enhanced knowledge about short- and long-term processes that shape the current sea floor, as well as about its role in the Earth System. To apprehend how we benefit from seafloor processes but are also threatened by them, we need to understand how ocean plates evolve over a plate tectonic cycle.

Early warning systems and forecasting of seafloor hazards such as tsunamigenic landslides, megathrust earthquakes at plate boundaries, and submarine volcanic eruptions increase the safety of people living at the coast and beyond.

In addition, concepts of sustainable use also concern the biogeochemical exchange at the seafloor, which affects global carbon as well as other chemical cycles and results in the formation of geological resources. We need to advise on responsible use concepts through understanding and considering their equilibrium at geological time scales and the consequences of their extraction.

 

Our aim

Our key goal for the next decade is to foster a holistic approach to study the seafloor and understand how it is affecting us and how we are changing it. We want to quantitatively address processes on near-instant and extended timescales. This includes working towards forecasting of geohazards and a reliable prediction through interdisciplinary research with a focus on urban areas and the land-sea interface, where the largest geohazard-related disasters have occurred during the recent decades.

It also involves assessing the oceans’ mineral endowment and how marine resources can be exploited in an environmentally justifiable manner. This requires an understanding of the behaviour of particulate and dissolved matter in seawater and their effects on a barely known ecosystem.

 

Our expertise

GEOMAR is uniquely positioned to explore the seafloor by having a horizontally integrated geoscience department with strong links to neighbouring disciplines. We bring together geologists, geochemists, microbiologists, geophysicists, and modelers united in the quest to understand the seafloor and its role in the Earth System.

We use a wide range of geophysical, geochemical, and modeling tools to investigate the geological processes on land and at sea, in the lab and in theory. We lead expeditions around the world using our dedicated seafloor observing systems. Our broad geoscientific research portfolio covers the deep sea up to the shoreline and we have unique capabilities to link our studies to onshore explorations by crossing the shoreline.

 

Core Theme News

Research vessel SONNE.
14.01.2022

Millimetre-precise data on a restless sea floor

Ship expedition promises new information on earthquake risks off Chile

After servicing the OBS, the team of expedition SO244 of the German research vessel SONNE re-deploys an ocean bottom seismometer off the coast of northern Chile. Photo: Jan Steffen/GEOMAR
11.05.2021

Strong quake, small tsunami

GEOMAR scientists publish unique data set on the northern Chilean subduction zone

Map of the Atlantis II Fracture Zone
17.03.2021

A new view on plate tectonics

Nature study finds transform faults play active role in shaping ocean floors

 Woman with red hard hat and clipboard in hand squats on a ship deck in front of a device.
01.02.2021

How dangerous are coastal and ocean island volcanoes?

GEOMAR scientist Dr. Morelia Urlaub received a prestigious Starting Grant from the European Research Council to study volcanic flank collapses

World map with different sized blue circles along all continental margins. The blue circles indicate offshore groundwater deposits.
13.01.2021

Will drinking water soon come from the seabed?

New overview study shows potential of global offshore groundwater resources

Electron-micrograph of Uvigerina peregrina
10.09.2020

Hidden phosphate reservoirs discovered in microorganisms

GEOMAR study explains role of microbes in marine nutrition circles