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Ocean Vents Give Clues to Undersea Biosphere

NSF Award:

CAREER: Hydrothermal Vent Flow and Temperature Fluctuations: Exploring Long-Term Variability through an Integrated Research and Education Program  (University of Georgia Research Foundation Inc)

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A novel technique developed at the University of Georgia allows researchers to remotely monitor plume dynamics of hydrothermal vents on the sea floor. Acoustical scintillation analysis (ASA) enables specific studies of vent flow rates. Studies using ASA have shown that the upward velocity of a vent plume depends on the tidally driven ocean currents.

Originally developed to quantify discharge from the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill, ASA will now help oceanographers study the strange and intriguing biosphere created in and around hydrothermal vents. This information offers a glimpse into conditions beneath the sea floor.

The deep ocean circulation around hydrothermal vents is unique. The current "blows" water into the plume and the plume itself "breathes" water in. When the horizontal flow is weak, less water flows into the plume. In such a case, the plume will be hotter and faster and will reach its maximum height. When the horizontal flow is strong, more water flows into the plume, causing it to bend and transport constituents horizontally. In this case, the plume is cooler, slower and shorter.

Three teachers also took part in this project, experiencing life on the research vessel Atlantis and taking a trip to the sea floor in the deep submergence vehicle Alvin. They returned to the classroom with a greater appreciation for the nature of oceanographic research and a renewed passion for teaching and encouraging students to consider science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers in oceanography.

Images (1 of )

  • high temperature hydrothermal vent
  • the pilot and two teachers inside the alvin submersible
High temperature hydrothermal vent.
Teachers Vicki Soutar (center) and Ron Prescott (right) with Alvin pilot Mark Speak.
Mark Speak, WHOI

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