• University of Southampton

Beneath the Blue: The Importance of Marine Sediments

Understand the importance of our planet's seafloor and get an introduction to the exciting field of ocean science.

4,016 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    3 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Discover fascinating seafloor habitats and learn how humans affect them

Exactly what lies beneath our oceans? Why is the sea floor, and its marine sediments, so important? And how are humans affecting them? On this course you’ll answer these questions and more.

You will consider the importance of the seafloor and learn about its part in global ecological, chemical and physical processes. You will learn about the vital role that the seafloor plays in providing ecosystem services to society, the current rate at which humans are exploiting seafloor habitats and the need to conserve these systems.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 3 seconds MARTIN SOLAN: The oceans cover a staggering 360,000 square kilometres, or about 70% of the earth’s surface. But if we were to drain the oceans away, we’d see one of the largest habitats on earth– the sediments below us. My name is Martin Solan. I’m a professor in marine ecology at the University of Southampton. I’m interested in the diversity of organisms that live in sediments– what they do, how they interact, how they respond to change, and how, ultimately, they affect things that we care about. Because they do affect things we care about. As we’ve been learning recently, it’s vitally important to protect our seas. But it’s just as important to protect what sits underneath them.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds It’s easy to look at the intertidal shores and miss the important role they play in our lives. It is, after all, just mud. But it’s mud that is teeming with life. It plays a huge role in protecting our environment, providing nutrients to sustain biological communities, as well as providing us with mineral and biological resources. We know what happens to marine ecosystems when we warm the planet because we’ve seen it up close in the fossil record. What this means is that we can use the lessons of the past to help us understand the present and protect the future of these ecosystems.


  • Week 1

    Mud Matters!

    • Welcome

      Martin Solan welcomes you to the course and explains some of the topics we will cover.

    • What are marine sediments?

      In these steps we will investigate marine sediments: what are they made of, how they get into the ocean, and in what ways they are different from each-other. We will explore a 3D map, then collect and share our own mud samples!

    • Life in sediments

      Now that we have compared different sediments, we will start to explore the challenges of living in them.

  • Week 2

    Biodiversity: who lives there?

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Last week we examined marine sediments and the challenges faced by living in them. This week we will explore what life is like; how diverse are the organisms that live in and on the seabed?

    • History of biodiversity

      In this section we will discover how the marine species we see today have changed over geological time.

    • Taxonomy: identifying animals from the sea floor

      Learn the history of taxonomy and the processes we use to identify and classify organisms.

    • Analysing biodiversity

      How do we know that biodiversity is different in one part of the world to another? This section considers how scientists have measured and quantified biodiversity.

    • Summary activities

      A round up of the week, including a quiz and your reflections.

  • Week 3

    Seabed communities: benefits and impacts

    • Welcome to Week 3

      How do animals living in marine sediments fit into our ecosystem? How important are communities of marine animals in influencing ecosystem changes?

    • Functional groups and communities

      We consider how communities of organisms develop and change, and how we can assess the health of seafloor. We also ask you to reflect on your place in the human community by asking 'what kind of benthic animal are you?'

    • Benefits and impacts

      In this section, we look at how we benefit from benthic communities. We also consider the impact we have on them through case studies on wildlife crime and climate change.

    • Summary activities

      In this final section we summarise the main points covered this week and encourage you to reflect on what you've learned.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain what biodiversity is and how it evolved over geological time.
  • Discuss why biodiversity is important and how marine communities deliver important services that benefit humans.
  • Explore the diversity of marine sediments and how communities of organisms inhabit them.
  • Identify marine organisms using a taxonomic key.
  • Discuss the challenges of measuring and quantifying biodiversity in marine environments.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of functional groups.

Who is the course for?

This course is for students from pre-A level to undergraduate who have a passion for, or are studying, marine science, biodiversity, earth systems, global change, ecosystem services or human interaction with marine environment.

It will also be of interest to teachers in these areas, or those with a general interest in ocean science.

Who will you learn with?

Martin Solan, a Professor in Marine Ecology at the University of Southampton, investigates how sediment-dwelling invertebrates, like worms, clams and shrimps, respond to change and effect ecosystems.

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Southampton with experience in marine benthic taxonomy. I'm currently studying how environmental change affects reproduction of important marine invertebrates

Who developed the course?

University of Southampton

Southampton is a place for ambitious people keen to stretch their intellectual abilities and help change the world.

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