Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UCSB scientists probe sea floor venting to gain understanding of early life on Earth

01.03.2005


New keys to understanding the evolution of life on Earth may be found in the microbes and minerals vented from below the ocean floor, say scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara.



The UCSB scientists are making new contributions to this field of inquiry in their studies of seafloor hydrothermal fluid discharge into the Earth’s oceans, which has been occurring ever since the oceans first formed four billion years ago. Conditions below the sea floor may most closely mimic the environment when life began. "There is a great deal of interest in the microbes of the Earth’s crust because the strategies by which they survive may be similar to the earliest strategies of life on Earth, and perhaps also on other planetary bodies," said Rachel M. Haymon, UCSB professor of geology.

Newly discovered geological and biological manifestations of hydrothermal activity at two sites on the sea floor to the west of Central America are reported by Haymon, lead author, and three other UCSB geologists in the February issue of the journal, Geology.


The discovery of deep sea hot springs and an abundance of microbes in the subseafloor are among the most remarkable scientific findings in Earth science during the latter half of the twentieth century, and have now become a powerful motivation for research and exploration, according to the National Science Foundation, a major funder of this work. The NSF explains that subseafloor ecosystems may represent both the cradle of life on Earth and a model for the exploration and discovery of life on other planets. "We are highly conscious of the importance of microbes in the grand scheme of things," said Haymon. "Indeed, they are the greatest biomass on the planet. They are strongly implicated as the earliest life here and perhaps elsewhere."

The direct linkages between life and planetary processes on the volcanically active, deep-sea, mid-ocean ridge system can only be understood through tightly integrated studies across a broad range of disciplines in geophysics, geology, chemistry, biology, and oceanography, according to the NSF.

For this study, Haymon and her UCSB colleagues studied the "flanks" of the mid-ocean ridge, which –– at 40,000 miles long–– is the largest geological feature of Earth, and possibly the solar system. At the mid-ocean ridge the plates comprising the Earth’s lithosphere move apart, lava wells up and freezes to form rock. This is how the sea floor is created.

Haymon is interested in the large region of cooling on the sides of the mid-ocean ridge. Possibly 90 percent of the hydrothermal cooling of the sea floor occurs in these flanks, and yet these hydrothermal vents are largely unexplored. The flanks are deeper than the mid-ocean ridge crest. Cooling of the tectonic plates, and the impact of the ridge flank system on the chemistry of the ocean, are fundamental global-scale processes.

On dives in the submersible Alvin, Haymon and her UCSB colleagues –– Ken C. Macdonald, Sara B. Benjamin, and Christopher J. Ehrhardt –– studied "abyssal" underwater hills that cover a large geomorphic terrain on the ocean floor and are the most common landforms on the Earth. However, little is known about hydrothermal venting from these common features.

The team describes newly discovered geological and biological manifestations of hydrothermal activity at two sites on young abyssal hills flanking the East Pacific Rise, a fast-spreading portion of the global mid-ocean ridge system. These are the first reported manifestation of hydrothermal systems associated with abyssal hills on the flanks of a fast-spreading ridge. "To explain these features, we suggest that abyssal hill hydrothermal venting occurs in frequent bursts, possibly triggered by earthquakes," said Haymon. "Such widespread and oft-repeated pulses of hydrothermal venting may stimulate microbial blooms on abyssal hill fault scarps, thus providing a potential food source for ridge flank biota, and an opportunity for researchers to sample the biosphere below the sea floor."

The sides of abyssal hills are fault escarpments (or scarps) created by vertical uplift of the seafloor during many events of fault slippage that produce frequent earthquakes. The scarps are cliffs that expose and provide access to the subseafloor, without the need for drilling, making it easier to tease out what is living at depth in oceanic crust. The fluids that emerge may come in bursts when earthquakes occur; fluid flow may therefore repeat episodically over hundreds of thousands of years as abyssal hills are uplifted and spread away from the mid-ocean ridge crest.

Haymon compared the subsurface microbes they found to those living in hot springs such as those at Yellowstone National Park.

Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsb.edu

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nagoya physicists resolve long-standing mystery of structure-less transition

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Chronic stress induces fatal organ dysfunctions via a new neural circuit

21.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Scientists from the MSU studied new liquid-crystalline photochrom

21.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>