Time Critical Studies
Rumbles From the Deep
Gala in the Galápagos
Scientists recently met in the Galápagos Islands to celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents. How long ago did scientists first discover volcanic hot vents on the seafloor? Hint: It was eight years after the United States landed astronauts on the moon!
Deep-sea lava gives up its secrets
Scientists have won a tug-o-war for two instruments that had been trapped in lava on the seafloor 1.6 miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
Using the remotely operated vehicle Jason, the scientists managed to free the ocean bottom seismometers, which had been partially covered and stuck in hardened lava during a large volcanic eruption in late 2005/early 2006.
The hope is that data collected by the seismometers will help to pinpoint exactly when the large eruption occurred, and allow more accurate predictions of future undersea volcanic eruptions.
From space station to seafloor
January 26, 2007 saw the first ever conversation between an astronaut in space and and a scientist in a submersible deep in the ocean.
Biologist Tim Shank (pictured), diving in the Alvin submersible, talked with astronaut Suni Williams on the International Space Station. This was a world (and space) first.
You can listen in to a recording of the call. For more details, see the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution website.
You can also read updates from the deep-sea expedition on the SEAS website.
A sound idea for mapping plumes
Like smoke billowing out of a factory chimney, hot fluid gushing from a deep-sea hydrothermal vent forms a buoyant plume that rises upwards into the overlying ocean. This plume takes with it chemicals, minerals, even some forms of life.
So scientists want to map plumes and study how they move. Now a group of researchers have done just that — not by looking at a plume, but by bouncing sound waves off it. Intriguingly, they discovered that the plume's movement can be affected by tides, despite its great depth below the sea's surface. » More about this discovery
Listen out: eruption about
For most scientists, losing several key instruments would pose a big problem.
But when a group of deep-sea researchers recently learned that several ocean-bottom seismometers were trapped more than 8,000 feet (2500 meters) below the waves of the Pacific Ocean, it turned out to be a good thing.
Why? Because the scientists had been predicting that an a volcanic eruption would occur, based on data from the seismometers, which "listen" for seismic waves from earthquakes. And it turned out that the "lost" instruments had been buried by lava from a new eruption — as this photo dramatically shows (you can just see the yellow top of an instrument and the flag protruding from it; glossy black lava has flowed around much of the rest of it).
So the scientists' predictions turned out to be correct, and the method they used to generate the predictions can now be applied elsewhere.
Detecting deep-sea eruptions
Where do most volcanic eruptions on Earth occur?
Not on land, but deep in the oceans, along mid-ocean ridges.
If a volcano erupts hundreds of miles from land and several miles below the sea's surface, will anyone ever know about it?
Just as detectives assemble evidence on a case, scientists collect a variety of information to pinpoint deep-sea eruptions, as this new photostory shows.
Important but elusive microbes grown in lab for first time
Deep-sea hydrothermal vents often jet out super-hot, oxygen-poor, acidic fluid.
Despite these challenging conditions, many kinds of microbes thrive around vents. But up to now, it has proven impossible to grow most of these tiny creatures in the lab. So we don't know what they look like, how they cope with their environment, or how they interact with other species.
Now a team of researchers led by Anna Louise Reysenbach of Portland State University (OR) has managed to culture a type of heat-loving, acid-loving microbe collected at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. » More: a longer synopsis of this discovery