Named after the long-lived Welwitschia mirabilis plant of western Africa, the iMirabilis expedition is one of the flagship “Demonstrator Capacity Building cruises” of the iAtlantic project. The cruise will take place on the Spanish Research Vessel Sarmiento de Gamboa (SdG) from July to October 2021 (postponed from 2020).
The ship will travel from Vigo to Mindelo (Cape Verde) where the first Leg of iMirabilis will take place. After working in Cape Verde waters, the ship will travel to Walvis Bay (Namibia) where the second leg of iMirabilis will begin including research areas off Namibia (Walvis Ridge) and off South Africa. The cruise will finish in Cape Town.
iMirabilis is an international multidisciplinary expedition with activities contributing to many tasks across iAtlantic’s work packages. At-sea activities will study both the water column (e.g. measuring oceanographic parameters, water and plankton sampling) and the seafloor. iMirabilis mobilises state-of-the-art seabed survey equipment including the Autonomous Underwater vehicle (AUV) Autosub6000 and the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Luso (EMEPC). This advanced technology allows iAtlantic to explore benthic ecosystems in great detail producing large high-resolution photographic results that will be processed automatically using new machine learning approaches.
The results of these surveys will be used to produce high resolution habitat maps in South Atlantic areas from which scarce or no-information is currently available. Moreover, the ROV Luso will allow collection of selected specimens for taxonomic purposes and for dating. Furthermore, new technologies will be tested during iMirabilis including the eDNA ‘MAPS’ sampler recently developed by researchers from National Oceanography Centre (UKRI-NOC). Seabed lander equipment will also be deployed during iMirabilis to obtain in situ information on environmental parameters and demersal deep-sea fish fauna. Ex situ experimental work will also take place on the ship, including short-term aquaria experiments with specimens collected with the ROV and incubations of sediment cores, collected by multicore and dredges.
Beyond the pure research activities, iMirabilis includes detailed training and capacity building components, for instance, young researchers from Cape Verde will join the cruise during the transits to be trained in seabird identification and seabird census techniques. Furthermore, outreach activities are planned in the harbours the ship will visit at the beginning and end of the cruise as well as between the expedition legs.