Finding life in the volcanic systems of the Antarctic Polar Front

December 13, 2012
This shows hydrothermal vent fauna at East Scotia Ridge taken by the deep-diving ROV Isis. Credit: Natural Environment Research Council

Volcanic waters in the cold Southern Ocean are the destination for RRS James Cook's current expedition. Scientists are exploring a two-mile deep water system of hydrothermal vents, calderas and cold seeps on the seabed off the coast of Antarctica.

Led by Prof Paul Tyler of the University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science, which is based at the National Oceanography Centre, the scientists are investigating four sites that were discovered on an earlier expedition to the region. The underwater East Scotia Ridge at the southern end of the South Sandwich Islands is a complex tectonic system that includes black smokers, white smokers, cold seeps and volcanic craters. It is the at that populate these chemosynthetic habitats that are interesting the scientists.

Prof Tyler said: "We will be using a deep-diving ROV called Isis to film and sample how these animals interact with the vents. The water here is super-heated to around 300 degrees Centigrade, instant death if the creatures get into the vent plume.

"But what intrigues us the most is how these species differ from species found at other vent sites around the world. We are investigating another piece of the biogeochemical puzzle that makes up the pattern of vents around the globe. We have a team of biologists, chemists, geologists and data experts who will map and explore this system."

While on board, the scientists will be contributing to a daily blog called Hot Vents, Cold Ocean: http://hotventscoldocean.blogspot.com. They will be posting videos and daily observations about their work in the world's most remote ocean – the East Scotia Ridge at the southern end of the South Sandwich Islands.

The scientists are drawn from a number of institutes, the National Oceanography Centre, , the and the Universities of Leeds, Newcastle, Southampton and Oxford. The expedition is the latest in a series of cruises to the region as part of a consortium programme called ChEsSo – Chemosynthetic Ecosystems of the Southern Ocean set up to explore south of the Polar Front.

The team will be using Isis, the UK's deep-diving ROV (remotely-operated vehicle). Although capable of diving to depths of 6500 metres (4 miles), on this expedition Isis will be working at 2800m (just under 2 miles). High definition cameras will reveal and record the animals living at these sites.

The expedition ends on the 5th January when RRS James Cook reaches Montevideo in Uruguay.

Explore further: Expedition heads for world's deepest undersea volcanoes

Related Stories

Expedition heads for world's deepest undersea volcanoes

March 25, 2010

A British scientific expedition is heading into the world's deepest volcanic rift, more than three miles beneath the waves in the Caribbean, to hunt for the deepest "black smoker" vents detected so far on the ocean floor. ...

More deep-sea vents discovered

February 14, 2011

Scientists aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook have discovered a new set of deep-sea volcanic vents in the chilly waters of the Southern Ocean. The discovery is the fourth made by the research team in three years, ...

'Lost world' discovered around Antarctic vents

January 3, 2012

Communities of species previously unknown to science have been discovered on the seafloor near Antarctica, clustered in the hot, dark environment surrounding hydrothermal vents.

Recommended for you

New study sheds light on end of Snowball Earth period

August 24, 2015

The second ice age during the Cryogenian period was not followed by the sudden and chaotic melting-back of the ice as previously thought, but ended with regular advances and retreats of the ice, according to research published ...

Earth's mineralogy unique in the cosmos

August 26, 2015

New research from a team led by Carnegie's Robert Hazen predicts that Earth has more than 1,500 undiscovered minerals and that the exact mineral diversity of our planet is unique and could not be duplicated anywhere in the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.