Hot2Cold Vents — December 2019

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Hot2Cold Vents

This research project is about understanding the organisms that live in hydrothermal vent ecosystems and the surrounding seafloor terrain.

The project includes two research expeditions on the R/V Atlantis to study vents at 9°50’N on the East Pacific Rise, an underwater mountain range, or mid-ocean ridge.

The expedition left Manzanillo, Mexico on December 17, 2019 with 20 scientists and an even larger group of technicians and crew members. It ended on January 7, 2020 in Balboa, Panama.

We’re using two underwater vehicles to explore the deep ocean. Alvin, a three-person submersible that can travel to 4,500 meters, and Sentry, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can go to 6,000 meters deep. Both vehicles are part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution National Deep Submergence Facility.

Sentry being launched from the R/V Atlantis during a 2009 research expedition. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Reddy, WHOI)
Alvin being launched from the R/V Atlantis during the first Hot2Cold Vents expedition in March/April 2019. (Photo: Rebecca Fowler)

Our first expedition left San Francisco with 15 scientists on March 25, 2019 and returned to San Diego on April 24. Read about it here.

About Hydrothermal Vents

Located along the seafloor in tectonically active areas, hydrothermal vents are fissures in the ocean crust where super hot, mineral-rich water flows out from inside the earth. Vents are hotspots of biodiversity in the deep ocean: Tiny microbes, the base of the marine food web, thrive around vents, along with many other organisms unique to this environment.

There many things we still don’t know about hydrothermal vents, which were discovered in 1977. Much of the research done prior to the early 2000s focused on the actively venting chimneys.

One of Alvin’s arms at work in front of a hydrothermal vent during our March/April 2019 expedition. (Photo: Jason Sylvan © WHOI)

In recent years, scientists have been studying vents that become inactive. Although water no longer flows out of such vents, they can last for decades to thousands of years and are therefore potentially important ecosystems in the deep sea. Scientists found that the microbes living on these inactive vents are very different from the microbes dwelling near active vents, but they don’t yet know why.

The goal of this research project is to learn how microbial communities and geological conditions change when a vent transitions from active to inactive. Understanding these processes will add to our knowledge of hydrothermal vents and the biology and chemistry of the deep ocean.

Education and outreach Opportunities

We’re blogging and sharing the expedition on Twitter and Instagram. Find us by searching for #hot2coldvents.

Expedition scientists are available to video chat with classrooms and student organizations. Please fill out this short form to arrange for a scientist to talk to your students.

Exploring by the Seat of your Pants LIVE — December 19, 1:00-1:45PM EST. Classrooms can hang out with expedition scientists and check out Alvin and Sentry. Space is limited; sign up here.

Instagram takeovers — December 24–26 and December 30–31. See our expedition in action over the holidays on the American Geophysical Union (AGU) account.

Educational Resources — Dive and Discover has hydrothermal vent diagrams, interviews with scientists, classroom activities, and more. Check out these kid’s activities created by WHOI for Alvin’s 50th birthday in 2014.

Teacher Professional Development Workshop—June 2020

In partnership with the SEAD Gallery in Bryan, Texas, in 2020 we’ll host a free, one-day professional development workshop for Texas middle school teachers and informal science educators interested in increasing their ocean science knowledge and collaborating with scientists.

Teachers will learn about hydrothermal vent sulfides and the microscopic life that inhabit them, and how to perform inquiry-based experiments on these topics. Each participant will also receive the equipment needed to replicate these in the classroom.

Workshop content is tied to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) science standards for students in grades 6-8 on the themes of scientific inquiry and organisms and environments. Student learning outcomes from these activities include understanding how hydrothermal vent sulfides are formed, what the physical conditions are like at these sites, how microbial life exists in extreme environments, and how these organisms interact with their ecosystem.

Each participant will receive a stipend, transportation reimbursement, and lunch. Pending approval, we will provide Texas CPE credits to participants. Educators from outside Southeast Texas are welcome to attend but we are unable to guarantee full travel support—please contact us to discuss details.

The workshop will be led by Jason Sylvan, a microbiologist and assistant professor at Texas A&M University, and co-taught by other expedition scientists.

Texas educators: Certainly you want to learn about hydrothermal vent ecosystems from Hot2Cold Vents scientist Jason Sylvan and his colleagues. (Photo: Rebecca Fowler)

To register or be notified of the 2020 workshop date, complete this form. The number of workshop participants is limited to 10; all additional registrants will be placed on a waiting list.

Expedition Participants and their expertise

Texas A&M University

College of Charleston

Heriot-Watt University

Memorial University

  • Sarah Moriarty | graduate student | sulfide age dating/mass accumulation

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of Bremen

University of Minnesota

University of Rhode Island

Western Washington University

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Education and OutreachRebecca Fowler

Get in touch

We love mail. Have questions about this project? Write to us.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.