Go to content Go to the menu Go to the search

Scientific activity - Laboratoire d'Océanographie de Villefranche-sur-Mer
Unité Mixte de Recherche 7093 – CNRS/UPMC




| lire cet article en Français

Key figures

Research groups

  • Biodiversity and Biogeochemistry (B & B)
  • Remote Sensing and Optics Applied to Marine Biogeochemistry (OMTAB)
  • Pelagic Ecosystem Processes (PEPS)

    Scientific Activity

    The study of plankton has been at the center of the laboratory since its foundation in 1882 and existence under different names and administrative authorities. These studies began with taxonomic investigations, describing the organisms, followed by studies of the roles played in pelagic ecosystems, and most recently examining functions and reactions with regard to global climate change. Today the two foci of the LOV are the structure and function of marine ecosystems. While structure and function are inextricably linked, the two are distinct and studied with different approaches and objectives. Thus, the study of biogeochemical fluxes in the world ocean and functional biodiversity of the plankton are complimentary facets of a single over-arching goal of predicting the effects of global climate change on the ecosystem services of the world ocean.


    Perhaps the greatest strength of the Villefranche laboratory is the capability to examine key, complex, and cross-linked phenomena such as food web structure or fluxes of energy and matter throughout the continuum from space to the bottom of the sea. This integrative capacity is in large part due to past and ongoing investments in innovative technologies and instruments allowing examination of different strata in the continuum. For example, data from satellites on ocean color is paired with data from optical sensors of fixed buoys to validate models relating ocean color detected from space to radiative transfer of light from the atmosphere into the world ocean. Another is the use of aerosol collectors allowing examination of the nature of atmospheric inputs into the ocean, paired with use of mesocosms, enclosing parcels of seawater, to experimentally determine the effects of atmospheric inputs of the pelagic food web. Dynamics of plankton food webs, from viruses to larval fish, in the ocean can be studied from the surface layer to the deep layers through submersible video profilers. Autonomous devices such as the new generations of gliders and floaters equipped with a variety of probes provide unprecedented amounts of physical, chemical and biological data from surface to the lower depths of the world ocean. Soon a nearly real-time 3-dimensional vision of the sea will be possible, complimenting satellite-derived knowledge of the near-surface layer.

    The range of expertise, experience and competence united in the Oceanographic Laboratory of Villefranche, unique in France and perhaps Europe, permits characterization, quantification and modeling of biogeochemical fluxes and the structure of planktonic food webs from space to the boundary of the meso/bathypelagic zones of the ocean.

    This later boundary is a key interface in biogeochemical cycles as matter such as carbon which is transported into the lower bathypelagic layer is sequestered for centuries.


    The Rio Conventions in 1992 provided formal recognition of the value of biological diversity, from genetic diversity within a species to species diversity and ecosystem diversity. These were recognized as part of the "Heritage of Humanity" mandating the preservation of biodiversity for its sake as well as in the public interest. Classically, biodiversity has been relied on quantification of species abundances and distributions based on morphologically-defined species. In recent years molecular data has provided new insights into the magnitude and dynamics of biodiversity.

    In the Oceanographic Laboratory of Villefranche the range of expertise and experience in biodiversity of the plankton is unparalleled in France. A very large range of taxa are studied (viruses, prokaryotes, protists, crustacean zooplankton, gelatinous zooplankton) using a panoply of approaches (morphology, physiology, ecology) and methods (molecular biology, HPLC pigment analysis, semi-automatic imaging and identification technologies). The expertise found in the laboratory is internationally recognized.

    The variety of biodiversity studies carried out in the Oceanographic Laboratory of Villefranche permit innovative and integrative studies, investigations of the comparability of different methodologies and multi-scale approaches such as viruses to zooplankton and genes to ecosystems. An example of the advantage residing in the multiplicity of expertises and interests of the laboratory is the recent development of an autonomous 'Jelly Detector'. A miniature camera was integrated into a glider designed for collecting and transmitting chemical data allowing collection and transmission of image data indicating the presence of jellyfish. No doubt in the near future 'biodiversity probes' will be used, perhaps first relying on image technologies and eventually on molecular techniques, to be used in autonomous vehicles or platforms deployed throughout the world ocean.

    LOV - 04/08/14