A new set of deep-sea volcanic vents has been discovered in the Southern Ocean by scientists on the Royal Research Ship James Cook. This is the fourth discovery made by the research team in three years. These discoveries suggest that deep-sea vents are more common than previously thought.
The vents are 520 meters down in a newly-discovered seafloor crater close to the South Sandwich Islands, a group of islands around 500 kilometers south-east of South Georgia. The researchers were exploring ‘Adventure Caldera’, a crater-like hole in the seafloor three kilometres across and 750 metres deep at its deepest point. Despite its size, Adventure Caldera was only discovered last year by geophysicists from the British Antarctic Survey.
“When we caught the first glimpse of the vents, the excitement was almost overwhelming,” said University of Southampton PhD student Leigh Marsh who was on watch during the time of the discovery.
Deep-sea vents are hot springs on the seafloor, where water rich in minerals and nutrients spawn colonies of microbes and deep-sea animals. The first vents were discovered around 30 years ago in the Pacific Ocean; since then, around 250 have been discovered around the globe. Most of the vents are located on the chain of undersea volcanoes called the mid-ocean ridge, and very few have been found in the Antarctic.
“We’re finding deep-sea vents more rapidly than ever before,” says expedition leader Professor Paul Tyler of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science, which is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. “And we’re finding some in places other than at mid-ocean ridges, where most have been seen before.”
The new vents will help scientists learn more about the role that deep-sea vents play in controlling the chemistry of the oceans. The team hopes to learn more about the distribution and evolution of life in the deep ocean, and the diversity of microbes that thrive in these conditions.
The new vents are the fourth set to be discovered around Antarctica in three expeditions since 2009. Their discovery is part of a project funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which involves researchers from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, the Universities of Southampton, Newcastle, Oxford, Bristol and Leeds, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Copyright © 2011 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC