Earth Science News  





. New Undersea Vent Suggests Snake-Headed Mythology

An example of the pink form of the jellyfish order Stauromedusae.
by Staff Writers
Durham NC (SPX) Apr 18, 2007
A new "black smoker" -- an undersea mineral chimney emitting hot, iron-darkened water that attracts unusual marine life -- has been discovered at about 8,500 feet underwater by an expedition currently exploring a section of volcanic ridge along the Pacific Ocean floor off Costa Rica.

Expedition leaders from Duke University; the Universities of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida; and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts have named their discovery the Medusa hydrothermal vent field. The researchers are working aboard WHOI's research vessel Atlantis, and the expedition is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The researchers picked that name to highlight the presence of a pink form of the jellyfish order Stauromedusae as well as numerous spiky tubeworm casings that festoon the vent chimney and bring to mind "the serpent-haired Medusa of Greek myth," said expedition leader Emily Klein, a geology professor from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

The bell-shaped jellyfish sighted near the vent "are really unusual, and the ones we found may be of a different species because nobody has seen types of this color before," added Karen Von Damm, an earth sciences professor and hydrothermal vent specialist on the expedition from the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space.

The scientists are exploring the ocean bottom with Jason II, a remotely controlled robotic vehicle operated by WHOI. Using Jason's mechanical arms and a temperature probe, they logged water temperatures of 335 degrees Celsius (635 degrees Fahrenheit) at the vent's opening.

"Despite the great temperature of the vent water, it doesn't boil until 390 C because pressures on the ocean floor are so great, about 200 times the pressure at sea level," Klein said. The tremendous pressures result from the weight of almost two miles of seawater pressing down from above.

"Frankly, it's astonishing that a rich ecology thrives in these extreme environments," Klein added. She noted, however, that while all the organisms near vents are adapted to the high pressures at these depths, not all experience extremely high temperatures.

"The temperature of the ocean floor is about 2 C (35 F) and there is a strong temperature gradient as you move away from the vent, so animals living a few inches away may experience temperatures only a few degrees above normal for the ocean floor."

Von Damm said that the heat-tolerant tubeworms found living on Medusa's chimneys, a type known as Alvinellids, are commonplace on vents in the equatorial Pacific and thrive on high-iron fluids.

According to the expedition's website Jason has also retrieved two other types of tubeworms -- Tevnia and Riftia -- from the vent area for expedition scientists and graduate students to examine and preserve.

The researchers aboard Atlantis are on the scene principally to study the geology of a complex section of the East Pacific Rise, one of the "mid-ocean ridge" systems where new crust is made as the earth spreads and releases molten lava.

According to Von Damm, scientists often have found mid-ocean ridges wherever there are geothermal vents warmed by heat energy from the underlying volcanic conduits. "Each new vent sighting sparks fresh excitement, because each one is different," she said.

"Every vent has a little different chemistry, and that helps us understand the processes going on in the ocean crust," she said. "Each one gives us a different piece of the puzzle. And biologists have found more than 500 new species at vents since they were first discovered."

The Medusa vent was discovered on Easter Sunday morning, right after the scientists aboard Atlantis had completed an Easter egg hunt. Scott White, a geology professor from the University of South Carolina, had just come on duty as the watch leader when Jason II found an area rich in the types of organisms typically found near vents.

"We all knew it would be special when we found all the creatures living there after looking at relatively barren lava flows for several days," White said. He diverted the robot to investigate the animals more closely and "within seconds there was a spire of a hydrothermal chimney looming out of the darkness at the edge of Jason's camera lights," he added.

Vent specialist Von Damm had just begun the watch shift when the first black smoker image appeared on a video screen in the Jason II control room. Since Jason's video output is also piped to screens elsewhere around Atlantis, Klein saw it at about the same time.

"Suddenly everybody came running from all over the ship to see what was going on," Von Damm recalled. "I was smiling a lot. I was very happy."

"I jumped out of my chair and went running up a deck to see it in person," added Duke's Klein. "I have been going to sea for 20 years and have been hoping to find my first hydrothermal vent site, and finally I have.

"And I'm ecstatic."

Email This Article

Related Links
Expedition website
Duke University
Darwin Today At TerraDaily.com

Misclassified For Centuries Medicinal Leeches Found To Be Three Distinct Species
Washington DC (SPX) Apr 12, 2007
Genetic research has revealed that commercially available medicinal leeches used around the world in biomedical research and postoperative care have been misclassified for centuries. Until now, the leeches were assumed to be the species Hirudo medicinalis, but new research reveals they are actually a closely related but genetically distinct species, Hirudo verbana.

.
Get Our Free Newsletters Via Email
  



  • Wireless Sensors Limit Earthquake Damage
  • DigitalGlobe And GeoEye Partner With The USGS In Support Of International Charter
  • Tsunami Emergency In Solomons Declared Over
  • Philippine Survivors Left Feeling Forgotten

  • Security Council Holds Landmark Debate On Climate Change
  • Want To Monitor Climate Change Pick Up A Penguin
  • Trans Atlantic Rift Not That Great On Global Warming
  • US Pollution Cop Defends Bush Greenhouse Gas Record

  • Scientists Meet To Review Envisat Results After Five Years Of Operations
  • US Uses Landsat Satellite Data To Fight Hunger And Poverty
  • NOAA And NASA Restore Climate Sensor To Upcoming NPP Satellite
  • High-Resolution Images Herald New Era In Earth Sciences

  • Shanghai To Shut Down 29 Coal Power Plants By 2010
  • Co2 Storage In Coal Can Be Predicted Better
  • UCLA Chemists Design Lowest-Density Crystals Ever For Use In Clean Energy
  • Researchers Find Large Is Smart When It Comes To Cities

  • Bird Flu Genome Study Shows New Strains As new Infections Spread
  • Ebola Outbreaks Killing Thousands Of Gorillas And Chimpanzees
  • Total Hepatitis C Cure Possible
  • HIV Market To Top 10 Billion Dollars

  • New Undersea Vent Suggests Snake-Headed Mythology
  • Misclassified For Centuries Medicinal Leeches Found To Be Three Distinct Species
  • Russia To Make Polar Bear Hunting Legal
  • Climate Change Could Trigger Boom And Bust Population Cycles Leading To Extinction

  • Coal Burning Having A Devastating Impact On Rural Chinese
  • Chinese Economy Reaching Limits
  • Plastic That Degrades In Seawater A Boon For Cruise Industry
  • DHS Rolls Out New Chemical Plant Regulations

  • Liver Regeneration May Be Simpler Than Previously Thought
  • Rhesus Macaque Genome Helps Illuminate What Makes Us Human
  • Why The Rich Get Richer
  • It's Never Too Late To Interrupt The Aging Process

  • 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