Alps of the undersea

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge snakes along the sea floor from the North Pole to the Southern Ocean, straddling international waters between Iceland and the Azores and creating a towering barrier between east and west with some peaks rising 3,500 metres above the ocean floor.
Trenches cutting through the Ridge – the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone plunges 4,500 metres down - provide the only route for deep sea species migrating from ocean on one side of the Ridge to the other.

3D-visualisation of the area around the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone. © MAR-ECO
The unique and diverse ocean environment of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge makes it a haven for corals, sponges and other species living attached to rocky surfaces, as well as for whales, bony fish and sharks that feed or spawn by the shallower peaks, or use the canyons and depressions as refuge.

In this area, cool water rich in nutrients collide with warmer Gulf Stream water and provide ideal conditions for production of plankton. The area is also a meeting hot spot of northern and southern migratory species.

The Ridge is one of the last frontiers of science where new species are discovered during research expeditions.


Currently, the most pressing impact is caused by fishing fleets targeting orange roughy and other commercial deep sea species. Orange roughy is extremely vulnerable to overfishing given it reaches maturity late at 20 years old and can live to over 100. Parts of the ridge have suffered severe damage from bottom trawling.

Cephalopod filmed near the mid-Atlantic Ridge © MAR-ECO
© MAR-ECO/Øystein Paulsen, IMR © MAR-ECO / Marsh Youngbluth © MAR-ECO / Tracey Sutton, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Florida, USA © MAR-ECO/ Richard Young © MAR-ECO / Marsh Youngbluth © MAR-ECO / Uwe Piatkowski © MAR-ECO / Tracey Sutton

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