Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New undersea vent suggests snake-headed mythology

19.04.2007
A new "black smoker" -- an undersea mineral chimney emitting hot, iron-darkened water that attracts unusual marine life -- has been discovered at about 8,500 feet underwater by an expedition currently exploring a section of volcanic ridge along the Pacific Ocean floor off Costa Rica.

Expedition leaders from Duke University; the Universities of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida; and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts have named their discovery the Medusa hydrothermal vent field. The researchers are working aboard WHOI's research vessel Atlantis, and the expedition is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The researchers picked that name to highlight the presence of a pink form of the jellyfish order Stauromedusae as well as numerous spiky tubeworm casings that festoon the vent chimney and bring to mind "the serpent-haired Medusa of Greek myth," said expedition leader Emily Klein, a geology professor from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/ .

The bell-shaped jellyfish sighted near the vent "are really unusual, and the ones we found may be of a different species because nobody has seen types of this color before," added Karen Von Damm, an earth sciences professor and hydrothermal vent specialist on the expedition from the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space http://www.eos.sr.unh.edu/.

The scientists are exploring the ocean bottom with Jason II http://www.whoi.edu/marops/vehicles/jason/, a remotely controlled robotic vehicle operated by WHOI. Using Jason's mechanical arms and a temperature probe, they logged water temperatures of 335 degrees Celsius (635 degrees Fahrenheit) at the vent's opening.

"Despite the great temperature of the vent water, it doesn't boil until 390 C because pressures on the ocean floor are so great, about 200 times the pressure at sea level," Klein said. The tremendous pressures result from the weight of almost two miles of seawater pressing down from above.

"Frankly, it's astonishing that a rich ecology thrives in these extreme environments," Klein added. She noted, however, that while all the organisms near vents are adapted to the high pressures at these depths, not all experience extremely high temperatures.

"The temperature of the ocean floor is about 2 C (35 F) and there is a strong temperature gradient as you move away from the vent, so animals living a few inches away may experience temperatures only a few degrees above normal for the ocean floor."

Von Damm said that the heat-tolerant tubeworms found living on Medusa's chimneys, a type known as Alvinellids, are commonplace on vents in the equatorial Pacific and thrive on high-iron fluids.

According to the expedition's website, http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/OSCexpedition/, Jason has also retrieved two other types of tubeworms -- Tevnia and Riftia -- from the vent area for expedition scientists and graduate students to examine and preserve.

The researchers aboard Atlantis are on the scene principally to study the geology of a complex section of the East Pacific Rise, one of the "mid-ocean ridge" systems where new crust is made as the earth spreads and releases molten lava.

According to Von Damm, scientists often have found mid-ocean ridges wherever there are geothermal vents warmed by heat energy from the underlying volcanic conduits. "Each new vent sighting sparks fresh excitement, because each one is different," she said.

"Every vent has a little different chemistry, and that helps us understand the processes going on in the ocean crust," she said. "Each one gives us a different piece of the puzzle. And biologists have found more than 500 new species at vents since they were first discovered."

The Medusa vent was discovered on Easter Sunday morning, right after the scientists aboard Atlantis had completed an Easter egg hunt. Scott White, a geology professor from the University of South Carolina, had just come on duty as the watch leader when Jason II found an area rich in the types of organisms typically found near vents.

"We all knew it would be special when we found all the creatures living there after looking at relatively barren lava flows for several days," White said. He diverted the robot to investigate the animals more closely and "within seconds there was a spire of a hydrothermal chimney looming out of the darkness at the edge of Jason's camera lights," he added.

Vent specialist Von Damm had just begun the watch shift when the first black smoker image appeared on a video screen in the Jason II control room. Since Jason's video output is also piped to screens elsewhere around Atlantis, Klein saw it at about the same time.

"Suddenly everybody came running from all over the ship to see what was going on," Von Damm recalled. "I was smiling a lot. I was very happy."

"I jumped out of my chair and went running up a deck to see it in person," added Duke's Klein. "I have been going to sea for 20 years and have been hoping to find my first hydrothermal vent site, and finally I have.

"And I'm ecstatic."

Monte Basgall | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/
http://www.eos.sr.unh.edu/
http://www.whoi.edu/marops/vehicles/jason

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Colorado River's connection with the ocean was a punctuated affair
16.11.2017 | University of Oregon

nachricht Researchers create largest, longest multiphysics earthquake simulation to date
14.11.2017 | Gauss Centre for Supercomputing

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>