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Unconventional carbonate factories in the Eastern Mediterranean: cold water coral ecosystems and seeps

English title Unconventional carbonate factories in the Eastern Mediterranean: cold water coral ecosystems and seeps
Applicant Spezzaferri Silvia
Number 175587
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Département des Géosciences Université de Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline Geology
Start/End 01.04.2018 - 30.09.2022
Approved amount 776'918.00
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All Disciplines (4)

Other disciplines of Earth Sciences

Keywords (7)

cold-water corals; Eastern Mediterranean; carbonate factories; cold seeps; ecology; subseafloor geomorphology; ecosystems

Lay Summary (Italian)

Titolo del progetto di ricerca:Deposizione di sediment carbonatici non convenzionali nel Mediterraneo Orientale: ecosistemi a coralli freddi e “Seeps”.
Lay summary

In Sintesi

I coralli di acqua fredda e le “seeps” sono luoghi di deposizione di carbonati e di ecosistemi non convenzionali la cui distribuzione spazio-temporale é in fase di scoperta. Questi ambienti sono sede di alcuni tra i piu’ enigmantici fenomeni che caratterizzano il fondo degli oceani e sono “punti caldi” di biodiversità.

Soggetto e obiettivo

Il Mediterraneo  Orientale (MO) offre una varietà di “seeps” di recente scoperta ed ecosistemi a coralli di acqua fredda come ad esempio lungo le coste di Israele (Zona di Palmahim, PDZ). Il progetto ha lo scopo di studiare la PDZ come laboratorio naturale tramite lo studio comparativo di ecosistemi a coralli freddi con “seeps” e sedimenti carbonatici autigenici legati alle fuoriuscite di metano. L’importanza del progetto é stata riconosciuta dall’Unione Europea che ha finanziato la crociera EuroFLEETS2 SEMSEEP nel Settembre 2016.
L’obiettivo del progetto é di capire i processi che portano alla formazione di carbonati autigenici e la loro relazione con le “seeps” nel MO e di identificare i fattori biologici, geologici e chimici che caratterizzano questi ambienti peculiari.
La ricerca comporta analisi cartografiche sui fondali, geochimiche su acqua e sedimenti e su micro e macro fauna viventi e fossile ed esperimenti in laboratorio per rivelare possibili relazioni causa-effetto tra ecosistemi a coralli freddi e “seeps” nel MO.

Contesto socio-scientifico

La preoccupazione crescente per l’impatto umano sugli oceani e un rinnovato interesse verso potenziali risorse presenti sul fondo degli oceani pone l’attenzione della comunità scientifica su questi ecosistemi e luoghi di deposizione di carbonati. Il loro studio é cruciale per dell’intensa attività umana sulle coste Mediterranee.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 29.01.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Project partner


SwissSed: past, present, and future trends in Swiss sedimentology
Homewood Peter, Strasser André, Spezzaferri Silvia, Foubert Anneleen (2018), SwissSed: past, present, and future trends in Swiss sedimentology, in Swiss Journal of Geosciences, 111(3), 377-382.
Benthic foraminifera in a deep-sea high-energy environment: the Moira Mounds (Porcupine Seabight, SW of Ireland)
Fentimen Robin, Rüggeberg Andres, Lim Aaron, Kateb Akram El, Foubert Anneleen, Wheeler Andrew J., Spezzaferri Silvia (2018), Benthic foraminifera in a deep-sea high-energy environment: the Moira Mounds (Porcupine Seabight, SW of Ireland), in Swiss Journal of Geosciences, 111(3), 533-544.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Foram2018 Poster Comparison between living and dead benthic foraminiferal assemblages in a cold-water coral environment: the Moira Mounds (North-east Atlantic). 18.06.2018 Edinburgh, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Fentimen Robin; Spezzaferri Silvia;
Foram2018 Talk given at a conference Benthic foraminiferal assemblages in cold-water coral environments: new insights. 18.06.2018 Edinburgh, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Spezzaferri Silvia; Fentimen Robin;

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
183379 A GC/Q-TOF for selective detection and accurate identification of key metabolites involved in biological and geological processes 01.12.2018 R'EQUIP
149247 4D-DIAGENESIS@MOUND: Understanding the temporal and spatial variability of early diagenesis in carbonate mounds 01.01.2014 Project funding
153125 Faunal assemblages from active, declining and buried cold-water coral ecosystems. 01.04.2014 Project funding
182091 Swiss participation in the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) through membership in the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) 01.01.2019 Research Infrastructure
201106 UndeRstanding coral thErmal bleaching threSholds during past InterglacIaL extremes: Insight into thermal StrEsses DyNamics on tropical Coral reef Ecosystems (RESILIENCE) 01.10.2021 Project funding


Cold water corals (CWCs) and seeps are unconventional and still poorly known carbonate factories. With their spatial and temporal global, and seemingly sporadic distribution - still in the process of unraveling - these are some of the most enigmatic phenomena of oceanic basins and slope environments. Both environments are biodiversity « hot spots » hosting unique communities of organisms. Seeps are sites for authigenic carbonate precipitation and they are often co-occurring with CWC’s. However, the internally and externally driven processes that control the relationships between those unique carbonate factories are still poorly known. At several locations along the European margin deep-water coral reefs settle on hard grounds, which are associated with seep environments. However, a controlling factor other than the substrate availability has not been observed yet. The Eastern Mediterranean Sea offers a variety of recently discovered seafloor seeps, carbonate buildups and deep-sea coral related phenomena relatively densely distributed in time and space. In particular, recent oceanographic cruises have revealed the presence of seeps, fossils and living CWCs along theIsraeli coasts in the Palmahim Disturbance Zone (PDZ) influenced by the Nile River discharge. This project aims to investigate the PDZ as a natural laboratories by carrying out for the first time the methodic comparative investigation of deep-sea corals, seep systems and methane-derived authigenic carbonates. The importance of this research topic has been recently recognized by the European Union, which funded in 2016 the EU EuroFLEETS2 SEMSEEP cruise on the RV Aegeo. The cruise carried out in September 2016, and jointly organized by the Universities of Fribourg (Switzerland) and Haifa (Israel), with support of Greek and Cypriot scientists has provided a very large number of samples from CWCs and seeps from the PDZ. These samples are presently stored at the Department of Geoscience, University of Fribourg and readily available for investigations. They include: water samples from the water column and pore water, box-cores, push cores, living (preserved in ethanol) and fossil macro- and micro-fauna (preserved in ethanol and Bengal Rose). Habitat mapping, geochemical analyses of water (water column, pore water in cores), sediment characterization petrography and geochemistry on surface and core, carbonate crusts, macro- and microfauna/ fossils will be analysed and coupled with experimental diagenetic studies in the laboratory to address the key question if there exist any causal link between cold-water coral ecosystems and cold seeps in the Eastern Mediterranean or if it has been in the recent geological past.The overall goal of the project is to understand the processes and timing triggering thepotential relation seeps vs. authigenic carbonates, the relation seeps vs. CWCs in the Eastern Mediterranean and to identify bio- and geo-chemical proxies for these environments in a region where the strong influence of the Nile River may have a significant role (PDZ). The project will benefit from the collaboration of Israeli and Italian scientists, who participated to the EU SEMSEEP cruise. The project workshops and exchange visits will give young scientists (PhDs and post-doc) an ideal networking platform to develop their own ideas and new initiatives with the support and input from senior scientists.