Scientists map underwater cliff during oceanographic expedition

Scientists map underwater cliff during CUMECS-2 oceanographic expedition

Over 500 submarine canyons have been mapped along the Malta Escarpment during a recent oceanographic expedition.

The CUMECS-2 expedition, comprising an international team of scientists led by Dr Aaron Micallef from the University of Malta, spent a week surveying a 250 km long underwater cliff offshore Malta and Sicily. The scientists used modern deep water acoustic technologies on board the OGS Explora to investigate seafloor at depths down to 4,000m and generate a detailed map of the entire Malta Escarpment. Operations on the ship continued day and night and had to battle with bad weather at times.

The most impressive feature mapped was a large submarine canyon that has an area equivalent to eight times that of the Maltese Islands. There are indications that this canyon seems to be active and hosts tens of small recent landslides. Submarine canyons deserve further investigation and protection because they host a variety of biological communities, act as conduits for nutrients and pollutants, and control the exchange of water between the shallow and deep ocean.

The scientists also acquired a number of deep water geological samples that hold important information on past earthquake activity and climatic changes through time.

The next step of the project is to analyse these geological samples in the laboratory and compare the Malta Escarpment with underwater cliffs mapped elsewhere around the world. This will be made possible by a Fulbright Scholarship awarded by the US Embassy and the University of Malta.

The CUMECS-2 expedition was funded by an EU FP 7 Marie Curie Career Integration Grant. The CUMECS-2 team consisted of scientists and students from the University of Malta, National Oceanography Centre (UK), National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (New Zealand), University College Dublin (Ireland) and Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e Geofisica (Italy).

The CUMECS-2 expedition was followed by about 900 people from around the world via its Facebook page (