Into the abyss
Monday 28 August 2006
Senior Research Fellow, Dr Alex Rogers (IoZ), is part of a national team which has recently been awarded a grant by the Natural Environment Research Council to explore hydrothermal vents in the Antarctic.
The discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the late 1970s changed ideas about where life could exist and how it originated on Earth.
These volcanic springs of the deep occur where pools of magma below the seabed superheat water making it react with the surrounding rocks.
This vent fluid can rush out of the seabed forming white or black “smokers”, chimneys issuing clouds of metallic sulphides. Unique communities of bacteria and animals thrive in these extreme conditions. They obtain their energy from the oxidation of chemicals in the vent fluids, especially hydrogen sulphide, poisonous to most other forms of life.
Deep-sea hydrothermal vents have been found on mid-ocean ridges and near island arcs all around the world but one area, the Southern Ocean has yet to be explored. This region may hold the key to understanding how the unique animals of vents, such as gutless tube worms and bacteria-eating shrimp, have evolved and spread through the oceans.
The research will involve three cruises on British research vessels deploying “ISIS”, an unmanned submarine capable of diving to 6500m depth that is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.
Image Copywrite: Prof. Paul Tyler, University of Southampton.