Researchers to embark on extraordinary expedition to Loihi Seamount

June 25, 2014
Researchers to embark on extraordinary expedition to Loihi Seamount
Schmidt Ocean Institute's R/V Falkor. Credit: SOI.

Starting June 25, UH Mānoa will lead an expedition to Loihi Seamount, southeast of the island of Hawai'i, whose base remains largely unexplored. Dr. Brian Glazer, lead scientist and Associate Professor of Oceanography, his team from UHM, and colleagues from the University of Minnesota, IFREMER Centre de Brest and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), will map the Seamount's deeper reaches using WHOI's Sentry autonomous underwater vehicle. The team will also collect water column samples and explore Loihi's extraordinary mats of iron-oxidizing bacteria—microbes that are able to use iron as an energy source, creating rust in the process.

Including the current expedition, UHM School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology scientists have been awarded nearly 100 days at sea aboard the R/V Falkor, operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI). This opportunity, along with the past UH research cruises on the R/V Falkor, has supported research in Hawai'i, contributing to enhanced understanding of these important marine ecosystems.

Mats of iron-oxidizing bacteria are not uncommon in hydrothermal vent fields. However, the microbial mats at the base of Loihi are extensive and impressively thick—a meter or more deep at some sites.

Processes at Loihi have the potential to provide iron to a large area of the Pacific Ocean. As Glazer noted, in reference to the iron-rich fluid, "Loihi is a giant leaky iron mountain, providing plenty of energy for iron-eating bacteria near the vents, and pumping iron out into the ocean as the hydrothermal fluids disperse."

In the upper ocean, the growth of microscopic organisms, which produce oxygen we breathe and form the base of marine food webs, is limited by the availability of iron in about one-third of the global surface ocean.

Researchers to embark on extraordinary expedition to Loihi Seamount
Sampling mats of iron-oxidizing microbes. Credit: B.Glazer, courtesy of WHOI ROV Jason II.

"Iron-oxidizing microbial activity like what is occurring at Loihi could be an important component in the ocean's iron and carbon cycling—a critical driver in overall ocean balance—particularly if exploration proves the activity is more widespread than previously thought," said Glazer.

Further, the work aboard the R/V Falkor could have implications for the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

"At various times in Earth history, much of the world ocean was dominated by processes that are occurring at Loihi today. In accessing Loihi, we have a window to the ancient Earth that also provides clues about the potential for life 'out there' in habitats that could exist on places like Mars or Europa," said Glazer.

If researchers can identify a chemical signature for geological features formed by microbes like those around Loihi, that signature could ultimately allow them to decipher whether similar features on other planets were biologically produced—a potentially simpler task than finding living cells.

The upcoming expedition aboard SOI's R/V Falkor will give scientists access to some of today's most advanced deep ocean technologies. Using Sentry's high-resolution camera, sonar systems and chemical sensors, the team will produce more detailed maps than are currently available and assess the extent of the bacterial communities.

Originally, the team was scheduled to use WHOI's innovative Nereus hybrid remotely operated vehicle (HROV), but tragically the vehicle was lost in May of this year exploring the depths of the Kermadec Trench northeast of New Zealand. With so little known about the deepest parts of the ocean, the Schmidt Ocean Institute has partnered with WHOI to develop what is hoped to be the world's most advanced HROV. For more details on this full ocean depth HROV, visit www.schmidtocean.org/story/show/2705.

Explore further: Microbe quest: Geologist investigates microbial communities at underwater volcano near Hawaii

More information: To read more about the Iron Eaters of Loihi Seamount, visit www.schmidtocean.org/story/show/2225

Related Stories

Imploding sub a 'tragic loss': Titanic director

May 13, 2014

Hollywood director James Cameron Tuesday mourned a "tragic loss" after a deep sea research vessel imploded nearly 10 kilometres (six miles) beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Newly discovered ocean plume could be major source of iron

August 19, 2013

(Phys.org) —Scientists have discovered a vast plume of iron and other micronutrients more than 1,000 km long billowing from hydrothermal vents in the South Atlantic Ocean. The finding, soon to be published in the journal ...

Recommended for you

2020 deadline to avert climate catastrophe: experts

June 28, 2017

Humanity must put carbon dioxide emissions on a downward slope by 2020 to have a realistic shot at capping global warming at well under two degrees Celsius, the bedrock goal of the Paris climate accord, experts said Wednesday.

Concurrent hot and dry summers more common in future: study

June 28, 2017

A combination of severe drought and a heatwave caused problems for Russia in the summer of 2010: fires tore through forests and peat bogs. Moscow was shrouded in thick smog, causing many deaths in the local population. At ...

Climate change impacts Antarctic biodiversity habitat

June 28, 2017

Ice-free areas of Antarctica - home to more than 99 per cent of the continent's terrestrial plants and animals - could expand by more than 17,000km2 by the end of this century, a study published today in Nature reveals.

The common insecticide poisoning our rivers and wetlands

June 28, 2017

Urban streams and wetlands play an important role in the proper functioning of our cities. They protect our houses from floods, provide green spaces for recreation, trap and breakdown pollutants and provide valuable habitats ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FastEddy
not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
This is science? University of Minnesota / federally funded cruise ships to Hawaii?

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.