What is SEEPC?

This project will evaluate connectivity on spatial scales that match those at which vent systems are being studied (3500 km), with a set of nested seeps (within the Barbados system) within which connectivity can be explored at more local spatial scales (30 to 130 km), and with species that span depth (600 m to 3600 m) and geographic ranges (30 km to 3500 km) and that have diverse life-history characteristics.  Five deep-sea seep systems in the Intra- American Sea (IAS) are targeted: Blake Ridge, Florida Escarpment, Alaminos Canyon, Brine Pool, Barbados (El Pilar, Orenoque A, Orenoque B). The primary objective is to advance our general knowledge of connectivity in the deep sea. The focus is on species and processes occurring in the IAS, with attention to oceanographic circulation, life histories, and genetics. Questions that apply in shallow-water systems motivate this study:

  1. What phylogeographic breaks occur in the system? It is important to distinguish between phylogeographic history and connectivity. A phylogeographic break with no shared alleles between populations implies a long history of isolation or possibly cryptic speciation.
  2. Are populations connected by ongoing migration? This is the fundamental question about connectivity and the scale of genetic variation in marine species with planktonic larvae.
  3. What biophysical processes underlie observed connectivities? Biological processes (e.g., larval distributions in the water column, timing of reproduction, and planktonic larval duration) and physical processes of transport and dispersion interact to determine connectivity.

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What is a Methane Seep?

Methane seeps, also known as cold seeps, occur along continental margins where reduced methane and sulfide emerge from ocean sediment. Methane seeps were fairly recently discovered (1984), but have since been found throughout the world’s oceans. The exploration of methane activity off of the U.S. Atlantic Margin led to the discovery of more than 400 methane seeps, which drastically increases scientific understanding of seep distribution and abundance patterns, as well as the implications for potentially high population connectivity among seep invertebrates.