A giant atlas of every living thing in the Southern Ocean

A team of international scientists has spent four years painstakingly cataloguing every known living organism in the Southern Ocean.

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Australian Antarctic Division/Martin Riddle

Our oceans are absolutely teeming with life -- and from the tiniest microbe to the mightiest whale, every known inhabitant of the Southern Ocean has come together for the first time in the first comprehensive atlas of the region.

Called the Biogeographic Atlas of the Southern Ocean, it's the work of an international team of oceanographers and marine biologists, working together over four years to collate over 9,000 species, more than 800 maps and 100 colour photos across 66 chapters, examining evolution, genetics and physical environment.

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Australian Antarctic Division

"The project was called the Census of Antarctic Marine Life and its objective was to catalogue as much of the biodiversity of the marine life around Antarctica as we possibly could," CAML leader and former Australian Antarctic Division Chief Scientist Michael Stoddart told the ABC.

"Of course, that's a huge, vast task. What we did was to gather together all the records that there were sitting around in people's offices in many, many countries of the world, pull it all into a great big database. We did a lot more field work and the outcome is the production of this big book."

All together, it combines decades' worth of research, including the Australian-led Census of Antarctic Marine Life, a marine survey that took place over two years, from 2007 to 2009, consisting of 18 major research voyages to Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

"We found that the region is unexpectedly richer in species diversity than previously known, and molecular techniques show Antarctica to be the origin of many species," Stoddart said. "For example, species of octopus that existed in Antarctica 30 million years ago have been propelled by strong north-bound currents and now colonise many parts of the Earth's oceans."

The CAML expeditions also found many new species, which have been included in the 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) tome.

The atlas is for use by anyone with an interest in marine life, and will be available soon via Amazon. Meanwhile, you can download the introduction from its official website.

 

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