Happy 40th! On April 21, 1979, WHOI submersible pilot Dudley Foster took the first picture of a hydrothermal “black smoker” vent. Foster and scientists Bill Normark (USGS) and Thierry Juteau (a French volcanologist) discovered the seafloor hot spring during an Alvin dive to the East Pacific Rise, where they spied a spectacular sight through the sub’s viewports. The fluid coming from the vent was 350°C (662°F), so hot that it melted the first temperature probe the scientists used to measure the fluids that day.
I stare out of research submersible Alvin’s porthole at an alien landscape of glittering obsidian
shards and towering vents belching black smoke, 2500 meters below the sea
surface. The unforgiving, austere feel and endless horizons remind me inexplicably
of home among the mountains and slate tips of Wales. It’s a comparison I still can’t
believe I’m in a position to make.
I peered out of the porthole of HOV Alvin like a child at an aquarium looking at the sharks. But the sharks were replaced by Bio9, a hydrothermal vent in the East Pacific Rise off the coast of Central America. The vent towered in the deep ocean like a castle from the Middle Ages, set on top of a large mountain of rocks flanked by two pillars that billowed black smoke from chimneys throughout them.
When a vent chimney transitions from hot and actively
venting to cold and inactive, the types of microbes inhabiting the vent change
too. At 9°
50’ North on the East Pacific Rise, archaea typically reign over hot chimneys,
and bacteria rule the cold ones.
A goal of Hot2Cold Vents is to understand how long it takes
for the bacteria to replace the archaea. Learning the history and age of a chimney
is one way to do this.
We’re looking for classrooms who’d like to talk deep-sea science and exploration with all-star Hot2ColdVents scientists Amy Gartman, John Jamieson, and Eoghan Reeves. They’re doing Google Hangouts hosted by Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants on April 16 and 17, both at 10:30AM EST. Sign up here!
Every once in a while you get to celebrate National Submarine Day with an actual sub. Hot2Cold Vents scientists—and many others—are grateful to Alvin for helping us study and explore the wonders of the deep sea. And thanks to our friends at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for letting us know about this holiday.
On Thursday, April 11 at 12:00PM EST, Hot2Cold Vents scientists Amanda Achberger (Texas A&M University), Rose Jones (University of Minnesota), and Jason Sylvan (Texas A&M University) are hosting a YouTube live session from the R/V Atlantis. They’ll field questions about deep-sea science, hydrothermal vents, microbial life, Alvin, and more. The event is hosted by Skype a Scientist and anyone can join. If you missed the live session, use this link to watch it anytime.
I might have the coolest job on the planet. I learn new things and share them others. I am a geochemist, a University of Minnesota professor, and a card-carrying daydreamer. I have always been drawn to the idea of expeditions, exploration, and the discoveries that await.