Wally, a deep see crawler, sits on gas hydrates at Barkley Canyon location. Photo: oceannetworks.ca

Wally, a deep see crawler, sits on gas hydrates at Barkley Canyon location. Photo: oceannetworks.ca

An international study led by University of Victoria biologist Fabio De Leo is shedding new light on the climate role of undersea canyons.

Synchronized real-time data from “Wally” the deep-sea crawler and NASA’s MODIS satellite have provided high-resolution data to show the importance of the canyons as rapid-transit corridors for carrying carbon from the ocean surface to the deep sea.

Using these technologies allows scientists for the first time to measure carbon transport from the sea surface to the deep ocean by wintertime ocean circulation.

A University of Victoria and Ocean Networks Canada media release says “wintertime phytoplankton blooms observed by MODIS from outer space disappeared from surface waters off the west coast of the Island and reached Wally at 870 metres depth in Barkley Canyon within 12 to 72 hours.”

Wally collecting data in Barkley Canyon. Photo: oceannetworks.ca

Wally collecting data in Barkley Canyon.
Photo: oceannetworks.ca

“Data from Wally and MODIS supports that these canyons play an important role in rapidly transferring carbon to the deep sea during winter,” De Leo said in the release.

“This new understanding of canyon transport of organic matter, combined with improved carbon budget models, can help climate scientists better predict global warming scenarios.”

There are a reported 9,500 deep sea canyons. inter sinking organic carbon is permanently hidden away in seafloor sediments, which came down from the ocean surface.

Winter sinking organic carbon is permanently hidden away in seafloor sediments, which came down from the ocean surface.

Sinking organic carbon from the ocean surface is permanently hidden away in seafloor sediments in winter. Scientists had previously believed carbon transfer insignificant during the winter compared to spring and summer.

“These carbon storage numbers add up and could be globally important for Earth’s carbon budget as it relates to climate change,” De Leo said.

Wally is equipped with an onboard webcam and is controlled online by a team of researchers in Germany.

Scientists from Canada, Germany, Spain, Italy and the U.S. co-authored the study.

Andy Neal