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Images: Life and Death in the Deep Sea

Deep-sea corals flourish in the dark depths of the Gulf of Mexico, providing the foundation for lush communities of other animals, including brittle stars, anemones, crabs, and fish. (Photo courtesy of Lophelia II (NOAA/BOEMRE) and Tim Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The diversity of life on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico may be out of sight, but it is squarely on the minds of scientists seeking to determine the short- and long-term ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Photo courtesy of Lophelia II (NOAA/BOEMRE) and Tim Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The tethered deep-sea vehicle Jason was a workhorse on a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2010. Its cameras documented deep-sea coral communities and its manipulator arms secured samples of animals, seafloor sediments, and brown material enrobing corals, which scientists suspect may contain oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill. (Photo courtesy of Chris German, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Cameras on the remotely operated underwater vehicle Jason took images of a seafloor site about 7 miles from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead. Scientists found deep-sea corals covered with brown, flocculent material. (Photo courtesy of Lophelia II (NOAA/BOEMRE) and Tim Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

At the site near the broken wellhead, scientists also saw brittle stars that were oddly colored and in an unusual posture: tightly coiled on coral branches. (Photo courtesy of Lophelia II (NOAA/BOEMRE) and Tim Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A red "bubbblegum" coral appeared to have lost tissue in places to expose its white skeleton underneath. The scientists meticulously sampled and documented the suspect site and returned a few weeks later with the submersible Alvin. (Photo courtesy of Lophelia II (NOAA/BOEMRE) and Tim Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

In December 2010, scientists placed an ocean-bottom time-lapse camera system at a coral site to document changes in the deep-sea coral community, which appears to be exhibiting signs of stress. This image  captured the submersible Alvin sampling amd documenting organisms on the hard-bottom seafloor area on which corals grow. (Image courtesy of Chuck Fisher, Pennsylvania State University, and Tim Shank, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Deep-sea time-lapse camera system provided by WHOI-MISO.)

To learn more about what sustains deep-sea communities, scientists deployed funnel-shaped sediment traps to catch particles of organic matter sinking down from the sea suface. (Photo by Matt Barton, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Chuck Fisher (left) and Tim Shank check equipment on Alvin's sample basket prior to a dive in the Gulf of Mexico. The pair helped lead a team from WHOI, Penn State, Templeton University, Haverford College, Auburn, and the USGS that carefully surveyed and documented life on the seafloor near the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In the foreground are push-cores used to take sediment samples. Not visible is the array of sample conainers for organism and tissue samples. (Photo by Ken Kostel, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)