The discovery of deep sea coral forests in the spring of 2018 filled a significant gap in the benthos research and even in carbon cycling in the South China Sea. Previously, the researches of deep-sea benthos were restricted to the sediment-covered soft bottom due to the technical limitations, and the rocky hard bottom was believed to be barren of life. Using submersible technique in the mid-1990s, deep-water coral reefs were first discovered in the Atlantic Ocean, which opened a new research direction in marine sciences. Two groups of deep sea corals have been recognized: scleractinian hexacorals and gorgonian octocorals. The aragonite skeleton of the former group build up deep sea coral reefs, while the latter make up deep sea coral forests with high-Mg calcite skeleton in many gorgonian corals. All kinds of carbonate coral skeletons can record environment changes of the deep sea and provide excellent material for high-resolution paleoceanography. Although the development of deep sea coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean is hampered by its extremely shallow aragonite compensation depth, deep sea coral forests are ubiquitous in the ocean. Up to now, most parts of the Pacific have not yet explored in this respect, and deep sea corals remain outside the research scope. The present paper is a literature review and calls for attention to the deep sea forests. It starts with the composition and distribution of deep sea coral reefs and forests, followed by discussions on the significance of deep sea coral forests in marine ecology and in paleoceanographic reconstructions.
Deep-sea corals live in the dark cold-water environments, the food of which that provides them with energy and nutrition is a key ecological and biogeochemical problem. Currently, the most common understanding is that their food mainly comes from organic matter produced by and deposited from surface seawater. However, more and more studies have found that they can also obtain food supply through symbiosis with a variety of chemosynthetic autotrophs and heterotrophs. Carbon and nitrogen isotopes have been used to trace and reveal the food sources of deep-sea corals. They also have been successfully used to reconstruct the phytoplankton community structure and the changes of nitrate isotopes in surface seawater in the past, thus providing valuable biogeochemical data for paleoceanographic study. However, due to the widespread existence of symbiosis with chemosynthetic autotrophs, further studies are needed to assess the reliability of organic carbon and nitrogen isotopes of deep-sea corals to reflect changes in the surface seawater. The deep-sea gorgonian coral, like those gorgonian forests recently found in the South China Sea, is relatively new and insufficiently studied in the field of deep-sea corals. Thus, basic biochemical and paleoceanographic researches on the South China Sea deep-water gorgonians will provide profound and novel insights to understanding the cold-water coral system.
Establishing a precise chorology is a critical issue when employing cold-water coral as paleoenvironmental archives. Currently, U-Th, 14C and 210Pb dating techniques are the most frequently used methods. The high-magnesium calcite skeleton of bamboo coral has clear growth bands, which is appropriate for 14C and 210Pb dating methods and holds a great potential to be high-resolution archives of mid-to-deep ocean evolution. Aragonitic stony coral is appropriate for both U-Th and 14C dating methods, which is valuable in paleoceanographic research. Because the U-Th method can provide the absolute chronology of coral samples, it can further be used to calculate the 14C age of ocean carbon reservoirs. Therefore, U-Th and 14C dating results of stony coral are currently the most reliable data for exploring the evolution of ocean carbon reservoirs through the Last Glacial Maximum to the present. It has been found that the 14C ventilation ages of intermediate water masses of the equatorial Atlantic and Southern Ocean significantly decreased at the end of the Heinrich Stadial 1. This suggests a massive carbon transfer from deep oceans to the atmosphere, or the Atlantic intermediate depths were ventilated by the southern- and the northern-sourced water masses, respectively, before and after the Heinrich Stadial 1.
Cold-water corals represent an intriguing paleoceanographic archive with a great potential to reconstruct high-resolution paleoenvironmental changes. Compared to those of shallow-water corals, proxies derived from cold-water corals have been complicated by biologically mediated vital effects. The oxygen and carbon stable isotope compositions of cold-water coral skeletons are more depleted than the expected carbonate-seawater equilibrium values by 4‰~6‰ and about 10‰, respectively. Therefore, it is necessary to correct for the vital effects before using δ18O as a temperature proxy. The principles and methods of reconstructing paleotemperature variations of intermediate and deep oceans using oxygen and carbon isotopes of cold-water corals are reviewed, as well as three existing cold-water coral calcification models and their advantages and disadvantages. It is suggested that further micro-scales analysis and targeted experiments are required to clarify the calcification processes of cold-water corals.
The cold-water bamboo coral, dwelling in the depths of global seas, is characterized by the “bamboo-like” skeletal structure of alternating calcite internodes and gorgonin nodes, and has “tree-ring-like” concentric growth rings transversally. Paleoceanograhic reconstructions using bamboo coals would fill the geographic and temporal gaps of traditional means. In this work, the inorganic geochemical proxy methods for bamboo coral are introduced, including Mg/Ca for ambient temperature, Ba/Ca for seawater nutrient content, and δ11B for seawater pH. Also, the potential influences of vital effect on the proxy reconstructions are briefly discussed. With the recent findings of deep-sea bamboo coral forests in the western Pacific region, a new territory of bamboo coral paleoceanography is opened for the scientists from the nearby countries.
At the IODP Forum 2017 in Shanghai, IODP-China proposed initiating the discussions on “IODP beyond 2023”, and the meeting supported China’s proposal to host and co-lead the activities for preparing the science plan of ocean drilling after 2023. The present paper started from an overview of the planning processes of ocean drilling science over the past decades, then analysed the scientific targets and perspectives of the future ocean drilling, and concluded with suggestions about how China should prepare the international discussions on “IODP beyond 2023”.Since half a century, the ocean drilling has played a role of locomotive in international Earth science community and of flagship in deep-sea research.China’s initiation and co-leadership in preparing its science plan for the next decade will promote the upgrading of Earth science in our country, yet the success of the endeavor heavily depends on active involvement of the scientific community , especially on its contribution with creative thinking.
The Antarctic and the Arctic regions play a key role in global sea level change and carbon cycle, and reserve key information of the Cenozoic transition from a green-house to an ice-house Earth. They have become hot spots in earth science studies. The geological drilling projects in both polar regions (e.g., DSDP/ODP/IODP/ICDP) have achieved remarkable successes, which have freshened the knowledge of global environmental and climatic evolution. Along with the Cenozoic global cooling, the timing of glaciation was almost synchronous on both the Antarctic and the Arctic. Accompanied with the Antarctic ice sheet build-up and increased terrestrial weathering, the enhanced formation of Antarctic Bottom Water exerts significant impact on global ocean circulation. The volume of unstable West Antarctic Ice Sheet fluctuates during glacial-interglacial periods showing 40 ka obliquity cycles, its volume significantly reduced or collapsed during several peak interglacials or long warm intervals. The Southern Ocean plays a significant role modulating atmospheric CO2 concentration, global deep water circulation and nutrient distribution, productivity at different time scales. Sea level responses to the waxing and waning of polar ice sheets at different time intervals were tested, which provide valuable clue for predicting future sea level changes. The upcoming IODP drilling projects on polar regions will keep focusing on the high latitude ice sheet development, Southern Ocean paleoceanographic evolution, land-ocean linkages in the Arctic, and the impacts on the global climate, which will provide important boundary conditions for predicting global future climate evolution.
Knowledge of ocean crust is one of bases to understand the deep and the surface of our planet. Since the definition of the Earth crust based on the geophysical discovery of Moho, marvelous efforts have been made to understand the geological significance of the Moho and the structure of the ocean crust. Up to date, it becomes clear that the Penrose model built up on ophiolite is unsuitable for the explanation of the ocean crust structure along slow and ultraslow spreading ridges, and probably also questionable for that of fast spreading ridges. The only effective way to solve the problem is to drill into the geophysical detected Moho and get samples. With the development of modern technology and more logic scientific strategy, that largely improved from the milestone Mohole projects carried out about half a century ago. The time to realize the Mohole dream seams coming.
Subduction zones are one of the most critical types of plate boundary of the Earth system, crucial for the global geochemical recycling of the Earth system, genesis of island arc and continental crust, and mechanisms of earthquake and tsunami processes. Ocean drilling plays an essential role in advancing our understanding of the subduction processes. This paper highlights the recent progress and scientific goals of the international ocean drilling programs in subduction systems and discusses implications for strategic planning of the future ocean drilling initiatives.
Aiming at the current climate status, i.e., drastic rise of atmospheric greenhouse gases and the apparent trend of global warming, the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP), launched in 2013, proposed four scientific challenges, including the response of global climate to CO2 rise, the feedback of ice-sheet and sea-level to global warming, the dynamics of the mid- and low-latitude hydro-cycle, and the mechanism of the marine carbon-chemical buffering system. By August 2017, eight IODP expeditions of climate-related themes were implemented, focusing on the Neogene evolution of the monsoon system over Asia-Pacific-Indian and the West Pacific Warm Pool, with specific interests in the variabilities and mechanisms of the Asian Monsoon system on orbital-to millennial-scales, as well as the connections between Asian Monsoon and the uplift/weathering of the Tibetan Plateau on tectonic time scale. The planned IODP expeditions in the forthcoming two years will explore the Southern high-latitude climate histories of West Antarctic ice in the Cenozoic, and Southern Ocean currents and carbon cycle in the Cretaceous-Paleogene. In sum, during the current phase of IODP (2013-2023), our knowledge about the marine climate system would be greatly advanced via deciphering the past changes in tropical processes of Asian Monsoon and West Pacific Warm Pool, as well as in high-latitude factors of the West Antarctic ice. A better scientific background of natural variability would be provided, accordingly, for predicting the future tendency in climate change. In this context, China’s strategic directions include the global monsoon concept, the tropical forcing hypothesis, and in particular the climate effect of the Sunda Shelf.
The discovery of living microorganisms deep in the marine sediments and even in the oceanic crust (the marine “deep biosphere”), is one of the most significant and exciting discoveries since the ocean drilling program began almost a half-century ago. Investigation of the deep biosphere has become the most thrilling research frontier for both geological and biological sciences. The “biosphere frontiers” has been listed as one of the four themes in the 10-year plan of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP 2012-2023), including deep life, biodiversity and environmental forcing of ecosystems. Here, we introduced the deep biosphere and its environmental features, several completed Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Expeditions, which targeted the subseafloor deep biosphere within the crust and sediments, and highlighted the main progress we have made in deep biosphere and deep life research, especially the contribution of Chinese scientists. Finally, we will give a perspective on the future of deep biosphere research according to the challenge we are facing and the key questions need to be answered.
Contourite is one of the most important type of sediments in the global ocean, which has recorded significant information on paleoclimatic changes. It is also of great importance for ocean engineering and marine hydrocarbon exploration. The development of scientific ocean drilling, especially the “Integrated Ocean Drilling Program” and the undergoing “International Ocean Discovery Program”, has made great contribution in mapping the spatial distribution of contourites and revealing contourite-related paleoclimatic information, through coring and geophysical exploration in the global ocean. It is found that the global distribution of contourites is controlled predominantly by the global deep-water circulation while its distribution in a specific region can be affected by the intensity of deep currents, tectonic activities, sediment supply, and so on. The geological changes in the global deep-water circulation is, however, further affected by tectonic activities, origins of water masses, as well as climate changes, e.g. the Cenozoic global cooling, changes in the size of the northern hemisphere ice caps, and intensity of monsoon. The main controlling factors of deep water circulation vary with different regions.
In the past 50 years, we have witnessed remarkable progress in our understanding of the Earth and ocean system, as a result of the internationally integrated deep ocean drilling programs, the Deep Sea Drilling Program (DSDP), the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). One of the legacies of the deep ocean drilling programs is the development and applications of the CORK, Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit. Earth and ocean sciences have been shifting from a traditional discontinuous, expeditionary mode toward a mode of sustained in situ observations today. The seafloor CORK observatories offer Earth, ocean and life scientists new opportunities to study multiple, interrelated deep marine subsurface processes, over time scales ranging from seconds to decades. Here, we first provided a concise examination of the development history of the CORKs, then described the first installations of ODP CORKs, the evolution of different models of CORK, and finally, summarized the scientific lessons learned in the installation and operation effort of the CORKs. In the end, we offered our perspectives on using CORKs to study geological, hydrogeological, microbiological, and biogeochemical processes in the deep marine subsurface biosphere, particularly pertaining to China’s efforts in establishing and enhancing its deep-sea and deep-biosphere research and monitoring programs.
Oceanic red beds are widely distributed in the global oceans and across the entire Phanerozoic period, which mostly appeared after oceanic anoxic events. They represent typical oxygen-rich sedimentary environment and play a significant role on ocean science research. Numerous studies have been carried out since the oceanic red beds were discovered. However, previous studies mainly focused on the Cretaceous oceanic red beds, and the understanding of the characteristics and scientific significance of oceanic red beds are not comprehensive. Therefore, we here summarized the global distribution characteristics and compared mineral and element compositions of various lithological oceanic red beds, including marly, clayey and cherty oceanic red beds. The main mineral and element components of oceanic red beds have no direct relationship with the color of the sediments, and mainly are affected by the regional environment and provenances. Therefore, the mineralogical and geochemical characteristics of oceanic red beds should be analyzed in combination with the regional background. The red coloration of oceanic red beds is controlled mainly by hematite, goethite and manganese-bearing calcite, which have two main mechanisms: ① Colored minerals formed in oxic conditions; ② Colored minerals formed due to low deposition rates. These two mechanisms are not completely independent, but complement one another with either dominance in most oceanic red beds. Lithological characteristics of oceanic red beds are controlled by three factors, including water depth, productivity and nutrients. Therefore, the formation of oceanic red beds should be considered with global changes and regional events. The unique origin mechanism and global distribution characteristics of long time-scale oceanic red beds can be used to indicate sedimentary paleoenvironment, paleo-oceanic current, and paleoclimate change. In addition, hydrothermal or magmatic activities on the ocean floor could also produce red-color deposits that are strongly different from sedimentary oceanic red beds. Based on the existing research, we also put forward the future in-depth studies on the oceanic red beds from multidisciplinary perspectives.
A crucial and debatable issue in paleoclimatology is the change of terrestrial vegetation and the role of its carbon storage in glacial cycles. In the modern world, the Amazon Basin hosts the largest tropical rainforest and plays a major role of carbon sink, but during the glacial times another large tropical rainforest must have formed in the then emerged Sunda Shelf, SE Asia, and significantly changed the global carbon cycling. Accordingly, ocean drilling expeditions to the Sunda Shelf are being proposed in order to investigate the sea level changes, evolution of river network, vegetation and carbon storage, as well as biogeography of the tropical region over the last millions of years.
The sea level change is an important part of global change. It not only relates to the natural environment and ecological changes, but also has a significant impact on the economy and the development of human society. Understanding the sea level history and dynamic rule is a basic condition to build reliable models and improve the future forecast. Sunda Shelf is located between the Pacific Ocean and India Ocean. Owing to the feature of the second continental shelf area, wide shelf and gentle slope, Sunda Shelf is sensitive to sea-level change and an ideal place for sea level study. In this paper, we introduced the method of sea level reconstruction briefly, and reviewed the researches in the Sunda Shelf of different geological periods: Overall, the sea level in Sunda Shelf during Pliocene was as high as 50~100 m, then fell gradually along with the development of the polar ice sheets, and fluctuated among 130 m with the ice volume shrinking and growing in Quaternary. Holocene researches with the most records exhibited the fast elevating in the last deglaciation and the mid-Holocene highstand. Recent observations showed a rising trend of sea-level of past 200 years and the accelerating rate since twentieth century. Meanwhile, the divergence conclusions because of the various research method and regions indicated the complex of the influencing factors and the variability of the spatial and temporal distribution for the sea level reconstruction.
The Sunda Shelf, owing to its unique geographical location and roles, has attracted much attention on its changes during the glacial cycle. At present, there is a consensus about the change of temperature in the region, but the reconstruction of paleo precipitation has been disputed. The hydrogen and oxygen isotope records since the last glacial in the Sunda Shelf were collected, combining with other paleo climate record, we roughly divided the precipitation records in the region into the Northern and Southern areas. During the glacial, the precipitation changed little and climate remained moist in the northern area, while precipitation decreased greatly,and the climate became dry in the southern. Difference in the precipitation isotopes between the northern and southern areas might be related to the different controlling factors of the precipitation isotopes in the two areas and large-scale atmospheric circulation in the region. Limited by the collected hydrogen and oxygen records, the precise mechanism of division in regional hydrological changes of the region still needs more work to confirm.
To date, it is still heatedly debated that whether the exposed Sunda Shelf was covered by savanna or rainforest in the Last Glacial Period (LGP). A lot of palynological evidences revealed that large increase of non-arboreal pollen did not occurred on the southern South China Sea (SCS), and lowland and montane rainforest pollen were still predominant. Most of the herb-predominated pollen records occurred on the northern Australia, possibly indicating dispersions of herbs from current distribution centers. As a result, we advocated that inland and connected exposed Sunda Shelf around the southern SCS were covered by tropical forests rather than savanna during the LGP, although climate was drier then. This conclusion is not only supported by palaeoclimate-vegetation modeling, but also corresponds with most of the palynological evidences from South America. Current palynological records also showed the lack of palaeoenviromental reconstruction in Southeast Asia, including less pollen records and ambiguous correlations between marine pollen assemblage and its catchment vegetation.
The glacial-interglacial carbon cycle is a complex scientific issue of the earth system. Although many progresses have been made, it is still far from being solved. Among others, an important limiting factor is the great uncertainty in the carbon stock in the terrestrial carbon reservoir. The present Sunda Islands are one of the three tropical forest areas with most abundant terrestrial carbon biomass and contribute greatly to the global terrestrial carbon reservoir. During the glacial low stands, the adjacent Sunda Shelf was exposed and led to a doubled land area. The scenario of terrestrial vegetation, which is not well understood, on the exposed land is probably a key factor to the global carbon cycle. Thus, a comprehensive paleoclimate and paleoecology study for the area is appealed, which may provide key data to quantitative analysis and modelling of the global glacial-interglacial carbon cycles.
Sunda region, located in the tropical region of Southeast Asia, is one of the three main regions of the tropical rainforests with the highest biodiversity in the world, and also the most endangered ranges of species extinction. The high biodiversity in the region was due to several reasons: ①the lucky geographical location in the warm and moist tropics, ②joint zone between the two large tectonic plates Eurasia and India-Australia, ③with abundant of islands separated with different distances. ④In the cycles of glacial-interglacial during the geological history, the variations of the temperature and the fluctuations of the sea level created opportunities for the species interactions and gene mixture, therefore resulting in the formation of new species and contributing more species to the region. In particular, during Quaternary period, the continental shelves exposed repeatedly during the glacial times, and the many islands were often merged into one or a few continuous and large territories, making the gene flows within species easier. During the interglacials, the sea-level rose and the continental shelved were submerged, and the scattered and isolated territories might make the speciation and extinction occurred more frequently. Biological refugia might be important for many species’ survival. Today, with the rapid global warming and intensive human disturbance, the refugia may be more crucial for many species to survive. However, the extinction of many species may be inevitable.