Online science expedition brings deep sea vents to the computer screen

December 31, 2013, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Researchers will use the remotely operated vehicle Jason to study microbes living on and below the seafloor during the latest expedition in the Dive and Discover educational series, which kicks off on January 2, 2014. The international research team includes scientists from nine countries. Credit: Tom Bolmer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Scientists and engineers using advanced technology and a unique robotic vehicle to study the deep sea will also be using their computers to interact with students, teachers, and the public about the research they are conducting.

Working along the East Pacific Rise, a mid-ocean ridge about 600 miles south of Manzanillo, Mexico, aboard the research vessel Atlantis, scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and their colleagues will examine life in some of the most extreme environments on Earth— hydrothermal vents.

The scientists' work will be chronicled in video, still images, and daily written updates on WHOI's Dive and Discover website from January 2-22, 2014. Website visitors will be able to experience much of what the scientists are seeing and learning during the research mission, including incredible video of the deep sea taken by the remotely operated vehicle Jason, and learn about life aboard a working . Interviews with ship's crew, scientists, engineers, and others, give visitors insight into the many people it takes to run a successful research expedition. The Dive and Discover site also features in-depth explanations of ocean phenomenon, interactive illustrations to illuminate deep-sea features and animals, classroom activities and educational resources for teachers, and a "Mail Buoy" that allows students and others to communicate directly by email with scientists at sea.

The expedition is the 15th on the Dive and Discover website, which was created in 2000 to provide young people access to the latest oceanographic and deep submergence research as it happens. Since then, the site has become a unique resource for teachers, students and the public, receiving more than half a million visitors each year.

The latest expedition is called 'Dark Life at Deep-sea Vents.' Unlike ecosystems on Earth's surface, where sunlight provides energy, exist in total darkness.

"There's no light coming in at all to these systems," said Stefan Sievert, a biologist at WHOI and chief scientist on the expedition. "All the energy supporting these ecosystems is coming from the inner Earth."

Since the late 1970s when deep-sea hydrothermal vent sites were first discovered, scientists have known that derive their energy from chemicals that flow out of the . But they haven't yet discovered exactly how they do it. What sorts of microbes are down there, which chemicals are they using, and how fast are they growing? What role do these microbes play in the food web, both at the vents and in the rest of the deep ocean? Scientists will be looking for answers to those questions during the expedition.

In addition to the Jason vehicle, the research team will utilize Isobaric Gas-Tight samplers, which can suck in microbes along with the fluids and maintain them at the same deep-sea pressure as they come up to the surface. Scientists will then perform experiments onboard the ship to study the activities of the microbes in more detail at simulated seafloor conditions. They will further analyze the DNA, RNA, and proteins of the microbes collected at the seafloor to learn more about their genetic makeup and physiology, and bring samples of microbes back to shore for further study.

"We'll be able to look at the genes of an individual microbe. And if you know how small a microbe is, that's quite a difficult task," said marine chemist Jeff Seewald, a co-principal investigator of the expedition. "Technology now exists that we can look at the genetic material in individual cells, see who is there, and possibly what they're doing on the seafloor."

Explore further: December expedition to explore life in hydrothermal vent

Related Stories

December expedition to explore life in hydrothermal vent

December 4, 2013

While most Americans shop for holiday gifts and break out festive decorations, a team of 18 researchers will spend their holiday season at sea, using underwater robots to explore the extreme habitats of life under the sea ...

Life discovered on dead hydrothermal vents

January 25, 2012

Scientists at USC have uncovered evidence that even when hydrothermal sea vents go dormant and their blistering warmth turns to frigid cold, life goes on.

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, ...

Natural deep-sea batteries

October 25, 2013

Exploring the deep oceans presents huge technical challenges, many of which could be overcome if there were some cheap and efficient way to deliver power to machines while at depth. To tackle this problem, a collaborative ...

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. ...

Recommended for you

Maximizing the environmental benefits of autonomous vehicles

February 15, 2018

The added weight, electricity demand and aerodynamic drag of the sensors and computers used in autonomous vehicles are significant contributors to their lifetime energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Dec 31, 2013
I gotta' C-note that says the program will be dripping with AGW propagandism.
4 / 5 (1) Dec 31, 2013
Too bad they will look at acidic vents instead of the alkaline vents that are interesting for abiogenesis- Oh well, next time.

And similarly to the 1st thread of this year having an anti-science creationist trolling, the 2nd have a an anti-science climate science denialist trolling. How creative.

Sigh. The more it changes, the less it differs, or something like that... (O.o)

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.