The department’s fields of research

The Institut Carnot Edrome department in charge of deep-sea physical resources and ecosystems is involved in scientific challenges (understanding the formation of continental margins, geological and geochemical processes associated with the movement of fluids, research into deep-sea biodiversity and assessing the effects of human activity on the environment). It is also involved in technological challenges (development of marine instruments, development of innovative and reliable facilities for exploring and harnessing mineral and energy resources).

The oceans abound in mineral resources (aggregates, nodules, sulphide bodies, encrustations, etc.), in energy resources (oil, gas, renewable marine energy forms, etc.) and in widely diverse ecosystems. These reserves are a long way from all being sustainably harnessed.

In order to achieve this, a greater appreciation of their full potential is required, through a deeper understanding of the phenomena behind their genesis and location. Against this backdrop, a basic knowledge of the deep oceans is essential, given the variety of geological, ecological and biological processes unfolding within them, as well as the diversity of ecosystems that they harbour.

In order to meet these scientific, economic and geopolitical challenges, the department is involved in research on:

  • The formation of continental margins. These have given rise to research projects of great socio-economic significance as they constitute the archives within which the general indicators of planetary change are stored, in addition to harbouring systems that harness resources such as hydrocarbons. This requires the conduct of geophysical research, the construction of models and the performance of material transfer calculations reflecting the scale of continental margins. New higher-resolution, seismic and acoustic tools are required. Instruments installed on the ocean bottom to acquire long-term sets of data will provide significant further insights in forthcoming years;
  • Geological and geochemical processes associated with the movement of fluids on dorsal and ocean margins. In order to locate hydrothermal activity in various geological contexts, it is important to understand the variability of processes, to identify the most active zones and to determine the factors controlling the dimension and composition of sulphide mineralisation. Special exploratory tools are being developed to facilitate exploration at a competitive cost;
  • Geological risks. Oceans are the seat of seismic activity, the formation of gas hydrates and of slope instability due to sediment build-ups incurring risks in coastal areas, in mining areas and in locations used for the installation of off-shore facilities (oil and cable industries);
  • Ecosystem research. Actions being undertaken are aimed at describing the biological diversity of deep-sea ecosystems and at understanding interactions between biological communities and their biotope through the use of multiple-scale interdisciplinary approaches, ranging from the ecosystem to the molecule. These studies are applied to anthropic effects on the environment and on deep-sea biodiversity.

Key technological challenges include the development of marine instruments for the various disciplines, needed to improve in situ monitoring methods (reconnaissance, resource evaluation, effects on the environment, alarm systems). Other challenges include the development of experimental laboratory techniques to simulate certain deep-sea phenomena, as well as innovative and reliable equipment for the exploitation of new deep-sea oil fields, the extended exploitation of mature oil fields, the exploitation of mineral resources and of renewable energy resources.