New Deep-Sea Vent Ecosystems
Chemosynthetic ecosystems were discovered in 1977 when scientists located high temperature hydrothermal vents at the Galapagos Rift. The vents were surrounded by giant tube worms, mussels and other organisms seen nowhere else in the sea.
The remotely operated vehicle Isis is launched in snow to explore the depths of the Southern Ocean during James Cook Cruise JC42, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council The discovery was highly significant as it was evidence that life could occur independently of the sun’s energy. Hydrothermal vents have now become important model systems to study evolution and dispersal in the deep sea. However, exploration of vents has concentrated on those located in low to mid-latitudes leaving a major knowledge gap in what may exist in polar seas.
At the start of 2010, ZSL led a cruise as part of a research consortium on the RRS James Cook to the Southern Ocean to explore the East Scotia Ridge and South Sandwich Islands for new hydrothermal vent ecosystems. A remotely operated vehicle, Isis, was used to explore the ridge at depths of up to 2,600 metres. At these depths the team discovered, mapped and sampled new high temperature hydrothermal vent ecosystems in three locations. These vents were unique, hosting animals that had never before been documented by scientists. The project will continue in January 2011 with a further cruise to the
Antarctic Peninsula in collaboration with the universities of Southampton,
Newcastle and Bristol and the British Antarctic Survey.