The first ocean-scale study of the mysterious deep-sea corals, may close large gaps in researchers' knowledge of climate changes.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the expedition is referred to as the Trans-Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study (TRACES).
Recent studies have shown some living deep-sea corals to be up to 5,000 years old, making them a detailed historical archive of changing sea conditions and climates, researchers said.
These cold-water corals, which can build up over as much as two million years, have become a focus for scientists trying to understand both deep-sea evolution and climate history.
Many corals grow their skeletons like tree trunks, laying down growth rings that represent the ocean conditions at the time.
"Deep-sea corals have the potential to record such things as temperature changes and changes in ocean circulation," said Brendan Roark, a paleoceanographer at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
"We can look at changes in carbon dioxide as it moves from the atmosphere to water to the deep ocean, and all that is important to understand the past and future of climate change," he added.
Corals are often associated with shallow tropical seas, but two-thirds of the more than 5,000 known coral species are found in the cold, deep sea. There are 1,300 such coral species in the northeast Atlantic alone.
The corals can occur as small colonies or form large reefs and giant mounds up to 1,000 feet (300 meters) high.
According to John Guinotte, a marine biogeographer at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Washington, "Deep-sea corals are important sources of diversity for shallow-water regions of the ocean."