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Levin, LA, Mengerink K, Gjerde KM, Rowden AA, Vandover CL, Clark MR, Ramirez-Llodra E, Currie B, Smith CR, Sato KN, Gallo N, Sweetman AK, Lily H, Armstrong CW, Brider J.  2016.  Defining "serious harm" to the marine environment in the context of deep-seabed mining. Marine Policy. 74:245-259.   10.1016/j.marpol.2016.09.032   AbstractWebsite

Increasing interest in deep-seabed mining has raised many questions surrounding its potential environmental impacts and how to assess the impacts' significance. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is charged with ensuring effective protection of the marine environment as part of its responsibilities for managing mining in seabed areas beyond national jurisdiction (the Area) on behalf of humankind. This paper examines the international legal context for protection of the marine environment and defining the significant adverse change that can cause "serious harm", a term used in the ISA Mining Code to indicate a level of harm that strong actions must be taken to avoid. It examines the thresholds and indicators that can reflect significant adverse change and considers the specific vulnerability of the four ecosystems associated with the minerals targeted for mining: (1) manganese (polymetallic) nodules, (2) seafloor massive (polymetallic) sulphides, (3) cobalt-rich (polymetallic) crusts and (4) phosphorites. The distributions and ecological setting, probable mining approaches and the potential environmental impacts of mining are examined for abyssal polymetallic nodule provinces, hydrothermal vents, seamounts and phosphorite-rich continental margins. Discussion focuses on the special features of the marine environment that affect the significance of the predicted environmental impacts and suggests actions that will advance understanding of these impacts.

Larkin, KE, Gooday AJ, Woulds C, Jeffreys RM, Schwartz M, Cowie G, Whitcraft C, Levin L, Dick JR, Pond DW.  2014.  Uptake of algal carbon and the likely synthesis of an "essential" fatty acid by Uvigerina ex. gr. semiornata (Foraminifera) within the Pakistan margin oxygen minimum zone: evidence from fatty acid biomarker and C-13 tracer experiments. Biogeosciences. 11:3729-3738.   10.5194/bg-11-3729-2014   AbstractWebsite

Foraminifera are an important component of benthic communities in oxygen-depleted settings, where they potentially play a significant role in the processing of organic matter. We tracked the uptake of a C-13-labelled algal food source into individual fatty acids in the benthic foraminiferal species Uvigerina ex. gr. semiornata from the Arabian Sea oxygen minimum zone (OMZ). The tracer experiments were conducted on the Pakistan margin during the late/post monsoon period (August-October 2003). A monoculture of the diatom Thalassiosira weisflogii was C-13-labelled and used to simulate a pulse of phytoplankton in two complementary experiments. A lander system was used for in situ incubations at 140m water depth and for 2.5 days in duration. Shipboard laboratory incubations of cores collected at 140 m incorporated an oxystat system to maintain ambient dissolved oxygen concentrations and were terminated after 5 days. Uptake of diatoms was rapid, with a high incorporation of diatom fatty acids into foraminifera after similar to 2 days in both experiments. Ingestion of the diatom food source was indicated by the increase over time in the quantity of diatom biomarker fatty acids in the foraminifera and by the high percentage of C-13 in many of the fatty acids present at the endpoint of both in situ and laboratory-based experiments. These results indicate that U. ex. gr. semiornata rapidly ingested the diatom food source and that these foraminifera will play an important role in the short-term cycling of organic matter within this OMZ environment. The presence of 18:1(n-7) in the experimental foraminifera suggested that U. ex. gr. semiornata also consumed non-labelled bacterial food items. In addition, levels of 20:4(n-6), a PUFA only present in low amounts in the diatom food, increased dramatically in the foraminifera during both the in situ and shipboard experiments, possibly because it was synthesised de novo. This "essential fatty acid" is often abundant in benthic fauna, yet its origins and function have remained unclear. If U. ex. gr. semiornata is capable of de novo synthesis of 20:4(n-6), then it represents a potentially major source of this dietary nutrient in benthic food webs.

Andersson, JH, Woulds C, Schwartz M, Cowie GL, Levin LA, Soetaert K, Middelburg JJ.  2008.  Short-term fate of phytodetritus in sediments across the Arabian Sea oxygen minimum zone. Biogeosciences. 5:43-53. AbstractWebsite

The short-term fate of phytodetritus was investigated across the Pakistan margin of the Arabian Sea at water depths ranging from 140 to 1850 m, encompassing the oxygen minimum zone (similar to 100-1100 m). Phytodetritus sedimentation events were simulated by adding similar to 44 mmol (13)C-labelled algal material per m(2) to surface sediments in retrieved cores. Cores were incubated in the dark, at in situ temperature and oxygen concentrations. Overlying waters were sampled periodically, and cores were recovered and sampled (for organisms and sediments) after durations of two and five days. The labelled carbon was subsequently traced into bacterial lipids, foraminiferan and macrofaunal biomass, and dissolved organic and inorganic pools. The majority of the label (20 to 100%) was in most cases left unprocessed in the sediment at the surface. The largest pool of processed carbon was found to be respiration (0 to 25% of added carbon), recovered as dissolved inorganic carbon. Both temperature and oxygen were found to influence the rate of respiration. Macrofaunal influence was most pronounced at the lower part of the oxygen minimum zone where it contributed 11% to the processing of phytodetritus.

Demaster, DJ, Pope RH, Levin LA, Blair NE.  1994.  Biological mixing intensity and rates of organic carbon accumulation in North Carolina slope sediments. Deep-Sea Research Part Ii-Topical Studies in Oceanography. 41:735-753.   10.1016/0967-0645(94)90045-0   AbstractWebsite

Sediment accumulation rates and biological mixing intensities were determined at three sites on the North Carolina slope based on profiles of naturally occurring C-14, Pb-210 and(234) Th. The three sites all were at a water depth of 850 m with a spacing of 150-180 km between sites. Sediment accumulation rates increase from south to north from values of 7 cm ky(-1) at Site I, to 160 cm ky(-1) at Site II, to 1100 cm ky(-1) at Site III. The organic carbon burial rate at these sites also increases in the northward direction from 0.65 (Site I) to 20 (Site II) to less than or equal to 150 g C-org m(-2) year(-1) (Site III). These data indicate that continental margin environments can exhibit highly variable carbon fluxes over relatively small distances on the seafloor. The rate of organic carbon accumulation at Site III is one of the highest values reported for the marine environment. Based on these accumulation rates and dissolved inorganic carbon flux estimates from each site, the seabed organic carbon preservation efficiency (i.e. the ratio of C-org accumulation rate to C-org deposition rate times 100) was estimated to vary from 6.0% to 54% to 88% at Sites I, II and III, respectively. The C-14 age of organic matter in surface sediments was older at Site III (1800 years BP) than at Sites I and II (800 years BP), indicating that Site III receives a greater proportion of old sediment from either up-slope areas or from terrigenous sources. Inventories of excess Th-234 (half-life of 24 days) were used as a tracer for particle flux covering the 100 days prior to the October 1989, July-August 1990 and August 1991 cruises. The mean Th-234 inventories al the three sites were 4.7 +/- 1.9, 8.4 +/- 6.3 and 23.1 +/- 7.3 dpm cm(-2) for Sites I, II and III, respectively. Profiles of excess Th-234 activity reveal that the biological mixing intensity is greater at Site III (mean D-b = 19 +/- 11 cm(2) year(-1), n = 5) than at either Site I (mean D-b = 6.0 +/- 6.2 cm(2) year(-1) n = 6) or Site II (mean D-b = 4.6 +/- 5.2 cm(2) year(-1), n = 9). In addition to the trend in mixing coefficients, the depth of particle mixing on a 100-day time scale generally is greater at Site III than at the other two sites. These observations of particle mixing intensity are consistent with the northward increase in the mean abundance of macrofauna (>300 microns) from mean values of 9400 m(-2) at Site I, to 21,400 m(-2) at Site II, to 55,500 m(-2) at Site III. For the three study sites off North Carolina, a strong correlation (R(2) = 0.99,p = 0.06) exists between macrofaunal abundance and the organic carbon deposition rate. An equally strong correlation (R(2) = 0.99, P = 0.04) occurs between macrofaunal abundance and the Th-234 inventories (index of 100-day particle flux). Fine-sand size glass tracer beads were dispersed at these three sites by submersible and then the field plots were sampled similar to 1 year later. The vertical distributions of beads at the three sites are consistent with a higher mixing intensity at Site III than at the other two sites, but the estimated mixing coefficients generally are lower than those determined from the profiles of Th-234. The slower mixing of the glass beads may be the result of their low food value and/or their relatively large size (compared to the surrounding fine-grained sediments).