Contourites: geological record of ocean-driven paleoclimate, accomplice of submarine landslides and reservoir of marine geo-resources

The success of the first Deep-Water Circulation congress in Baiona (16-18 June 2010) has led to the start of a new International Geoscience Programme on contourites: IGCP 619 "Contourites: processes & products".

Contourites are sediments deposited or significantly affected by bottom currents near continental margins. Although unknown by the public, contourite deposits are observed all over the Earth’s continental margin and are of importance in a wide range of processes. IGCP 619 "Contourites: processes & products" will improve our understanding of:

  • Geohazards: Contourites may lie at the origin of major slope instabilities (such as the Storegga slide), creating Tsunami dangers.  Their presence may prove to be critical if the hydrocarbon industry moves to deeper slopes.
  • Earth resources: Contourites occur in nearly all complex environments and may act a source, a reservoir or cap rock for hydrocarbon resources. Also the role of deep-water circulation on the growth and distribution of ferro-manganese nodules is still under debate.
  • Global Change: contouritic deposits are useful recorders of past climate changes and assist in understanding the modulating role of the deep ocean in our climate system.
  • Deepwater ecosystems: deep-water ecosystems (cold-water corals) are highly influenced by deep-water circulation which deposits contourites. Any change in circulation may affect the “health status” of these reefs, which are also nurseries for our future fish stocks.

IGCP 619 "Contourites: processes & products" will unite 133 scientists from 23 nations, among which many developing and newly developed nations. The programme will run from 2012 to 2016 and is funded by the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) of UNESCO.