The French Prime Minister Jean Castex and ministerial colleagues were treated to an exclusive virtual dive to the Lucky Strike hydrothermal vent complex on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge during a visit to the new Ifremer headquarters earlier this week.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex inaugurated the new headquarters of Ifremer on Saturday 6 February 2021, accompanied by Jean-Yves Le Drian (Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs), Annick Girardin (Minister of the Sea), Frédérique Vidal (Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation), Bérangère Abba (Secretary of State to the Minister of Ecological Transition, responsible for Biodiversity), and Richard Ferrand (President of the National Assembly). Ifremer relocated its headquarters from Paris to Brest in 2019, with the new building reaching completion in 2020. Joining the ministers and Ifremer staff at the inauguration event were the local authorities that financed the project: the Brittany Region, the Department of Finistère and Brest Métropole.
During their visit, the ministers were invited to dive to 1700 m below the sea with iAtlantic researchers Jozée Sarrazin and Marjolaine Matabos to explore the Lucky Strike vent field on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge using a virtual reality headset. Hydrothermal vents host unique biodiversity as well as rare metals that are the focus of increasing interests by industries and governments. As part of iAtlantic, Ifremer will study the temporal evolution of vent communities on the central Mid-Atlantic Ridge at the Lucky Strike hydrothermal vent field through repeated 3D mapping of the 11-m high “Eiffel Tower” edifice. These 3D benthic reconstructions were created using photomosaics from repeated ROV imaging surveys. Temporal trends in vent communities at metre-scale will be studied to determine environmental drivers of species distribution and biological changes over time.
The transfer of these models into a virtual environment offers a unique access to these remote ecosystems. Virtual Reality can serve social-economic needs by informing environmental managers and significantly increasing the outreach potential to raise ocean awareness in the general public.
The footage viewed through the virtual reality headset is available to explore below. 3D footage copyright of Ifremer/Dugornay Olivier (2019): Diving at 1700 meters.