Earth Science News  





. Extraordinary Life Found Around Deep-Sea Gas Seeps

Illustration of a deep-sea vent.
by Staff Writers
Off the East coast of New Zealand (SPX) Nov 21, 2006
An international team led by scientists from the United States and New Zealand have observed, for the first time, the bizarre deep-sea communities living around methane seeps off New Zealand's east coast.

'This is the first time cold seeps have been viewed and sampled in the southwest Pacific, and will greatly contribute to our knowledge of these intriguing ecosystems,' says Dr Amy Baco-Taylor, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, who co-led the voyage with Dr Ashley Rowden from New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

The 21-member expedition - led by scientists from WHOI, NIWA, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH) - has spent the last two weeks exploring cold water seeps and other 'chemosynthetic' ecosystems around New Zealand's east coast onboard NIWA's deepwater research vessel Tangaroa.

Cold seeps are areas of the seafloor where methane gas or hydrogen sulphide escapes from large stores deep below. Like hydrothermal vents, cold seeps support unique communities of animals living in symbiosis with microbes that can convert these energy-rich chemicals to living matter (a form of 'chemosynthesis') in the absence of sunlight.

New Zealand is one of the few places in the world where at least four types of chemosynthetic habitats occur in close proximity, allowing scientists to address key questions about the patterns of biological distribution that cannot be addressed elsewhere.

The team visited eight cold seep sites on the continental slope to the east of the North Island, lying at depths of 750-1050 m.

'We discovered that one of these sites, "The Builder's Pencil", covers about 180 000 square metres (0.18 square kilometre), making it one of the largest seep sites in the world', says Dr Rowden.

A few cold seep sites were previously known along the New Zealand coast from geological and biogeochemical studies of the continental margin. But this is the first time the biodiversity of the animal communities living at these sites has been observed directly and thoroughly documented, providing the first discovery of cold seep communities in the entire southwest Pacific.

'The nearest known cold seep communities that have been biologically described are off Chile and Japan. The seeps off New Zealand are also remarkable in the sheer extent of their chemosynthetic communities,' says Dr Baco-Taylor.

The team pinpointed potential seep sites using sophisticated sonar to map seafloor topography and substrate and to detect plumes of methane-enriched water. The scientists then lowered a towed video and still camera system over each site to identify seep organisms and the extent of the seafloor they covered.

With the live video feed, the scientists observed 30-40 cm long tube worms emerging from beneath limestone boulders and slabs lying at the core of the seeps. Around the rocks were patches of blackened sediment and pockets of white bacterial mats. Most sites also had extensive shell beds consisting of live and dead shells of various types of clams and mussels. These were fringed with stands of another type of deep-sea tube worm that is also gutless and relies on symbiotic bacteria for its nutrition. Corals and, at two of the sites, numerous sponges, were also observed.

'We've collected samples of the animals living around the seeps for formal identification, but the distance to previously studied cold seeps implies that there are several species new to science among these new collections,' says Dr Rowden.

The team has also collected samples of the sediment and water surrounding the seeps for chemical analysis and used sonar to study the geological structures lying beneath them.

The discovery of so many sites suggests that cold seeps are very abundant along New Zealand's eastern continental margin. However, this expedition also revealed the extent to which these communities may face serious threats from human activities. At all of the seep sites, there was evidence of fishing damage in the form of trawl marks, lost fishing gear, and extensive areas of deep-sea coral rubble.

### This voyage was jointly funded by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Ocean Exploration (NOAA OE) and NIWA, with additional support from WHOI, Scripps, and UH.

Media please note:

The expedition will return to Wellington on Monday 20 November, docking at Burnham Wharf at Miramar.

There will be an opportunity to interview the principal scientists, view video footage of the seeps, and film/photograph some of the new specimens collected from 13:00 hours. Still images are also available - for low-res versions, got to: ftp://ftp/niwamedia/seeps_voyage/.

For further information, please contact:

Dr Fiona Proffitt NIWA Science Communication Tel: +64 4 386 0546 Mob: +64 21 365 351 f.proffitt@niwa.co.nz

Principal scientists: Dr Amy Baco-Taylor (Co-Voyage Leader) - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA Dr Ashley Rowden (Co-Voyage Leader) - NIWA Dr Lisa Levin - Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA Dr Craig Smith - University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA

Additional information

The voyage visited cold seeps at sites around the Hikurangi Margin off the east coast of the North Island and at the entrance to Cook Strait.

Over 100 stations were sampled during the voyage, and over 1300 'lots' of organisms were recorded - which represent the collection of thousands of specimens for further study.

New Zealand has been identified by the Census of Marine Life (an international initiative to document and explain biodiversity in the world's oceans) as a high priority region to advance our understanding of chemosynthetic ecosystems, which include hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, 'whale falls' (whale carcasses that have sunk to the seafloor), and sunken wood.

This expedition is the first step in a long-term programme designed to characterise the communities of animals and microbes living in chemosynthetic habitats in New Zealand waters. It will contribute to the Census of Marine Life, Chemosynthetic Ecosystems (ChESS) programme, which aims to understand global patterns of biodiversity and biogeography in these ecosystems, and to COMARGE, the Census program on continental margins of the world.

ChEss (www.noc.soton.ac.uk/chess) is a global study of the distribution, abundance and diversity of species in deep-water hydrothermal vents, cold seeps and other chemosynthetic ecosystems for the Census of Marine Life initiative. Coordinated from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK) and the Institute of Marine Sciences-CSIC, Barcelona (Spain), ChEss aims to improve our knowledge of the biogeography of chemosynthetic ecosystems and the processes driving them.

The expedition team also studied the floor of Kaikoura Canyon, off the east coast of New Zealand's South Island, as a likely site where dead whales and sunken wood collect. Such whale and wood falls also support chemosynthetic communities. The team found that the canyon floor holds an extraordinary mass of giant worms, burrowing sea cucumbers and sea urchins, and enormous tube buildling foraminifera (single-celled organisms).

The scientists will place bundles of wood and whale bone in the canyon to study the animals that colonise them. They plan to use submersibles and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) in future expeditions to further study New Zealand chemosynthetic ecosystems.

Related Links
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research
Darwin Today At TerraDaily.com

Elephants Trample Two Women In Indian Sanctuary
Dehradun (AFP) India, Nov 20, 2006
An elephant herd maurading through a state-run northern Indian sanctuary trampled to death two women inside the park on Monday, officials said. "The two women were collecting timber inside Rajaji Park when elephants trampled them to death," said G.S. Pande, director of the 700-square kilometre (270-square mile) sanctuary nestling in the Himalayan foothills.

.
Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
  



  • Red Cross Says Preparation Can Mitigate The Toll Of Disasters
  • Bad Weather Hampers Aid To Flood-Hit Western Afghanistan
  • Huge Aid Operation Underway As Floods, Crocs Ravage Kenya, Somalia
  • Computer Software Enables Rapid Response To Time-Critical Emergencies

  • 'Divided' Countries Could Leave Climate Deal In 'Tatters'
  • Seven-Year Stabilization Of Methane May Slow Global Warming
  • Dutch Bask In Warmest Autumn In Three Centuries
  • Central Asian States Launch Program To Reverse Desertification

  • European Space Agency And Google Earth Showcase Our Planet
  • SciSys Wins Software Role For CryoSat-2 Mission
  • Next Generation Imaging Detectors Could Enhance Space Missions
  • SSTL Signs Contract With Federal Republic Of Nigeria For Supply Of EO Satellite

  • Petroleum Targets Unearthed By UH Professor
  • Microorganisms One Part Of The Solution To Energy Problem
  • Carbon Storage Eyed In New US-Australian Climate Change projects
  • Lockheed Martin Awards Lithium Technology With ATLAS V Battery Contract

  • Setting The Stage To Find Drugs Against SARS
  • Pattern Of Human Ebola Outbreaks Linked To Wildlife And Climate
  • UGA Researchers Use Laser, Nanotechnology To Rapidly Detect Viruses
  • 26,000 Russians Contracted HIV Since Start Of Year

  • Looking At Life In Lyon
  • Extraordinary Life Found Around Deep-Sea Gas Seeps
  • Wnt Signaling System Reactivates Dormant Limb Regeneration Program
  • Teeth Tell Ancient Tale

  • Police Fire Teargas To Break Toxic Waste Demo
  • Beijingers Told To Stay Indoors As Smog Hangs Over North China
  • Greens See Red Over A Thousand Hindu Fires In India
  • Mafia Waste Trafficking Threatens The Environment

  • Neanderthal Genome Sequencing Yields Surprising Results
  • Dad Inspired 'Jurassic Park,' Son Inspires 'Jurassic Poop'
  • Buffet for Early Human Relatives Two Million Years Ago
  • Unraveling Where Chimp And Human Brains Diverge

  • The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2006 - SpaceDaily.AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA PortalReports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additionalcopyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement