Research team to explore hydrothermal vent in deep seas

November 11th, 2008 - 4:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 11 (IANS) A research team has embarked on deep sea exploration to study hydrothermal vents.The team, which will be conducting research on scalding heat, high pressure, toxic chemicals and total darkness, is part of the National Science Foundation-funded “Extreme 2008: A Deep-Sea Adventure.”

The scientists are being joined by students from around the world who have signed up for an exciting virtual field trip.

More than 20,000 students from 350 schools in the United States, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Great Britain and New Zealand are participating.

The expedition, led by Craig Cary, professor of marine biosciences at the University of Delaware’s College of Marine and Earth Studies, left on Monday, aboard the research ship Atlantis from a port in Manzanillo, Mexico, with an expected return by December 1.

The team is heading to destinations at two hydrothermal hot spots: Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California and a group of vents in the eastern Pacific Ocean about nine degrees north of the equator.

Once above the vents, the researchers will take the submersible Alvin down from one to nearly two miles below the surface, said a Delaware University release.

Built to withstand crushing pressures and to pierce the utter blackness of the deep, Alvin will let the scientists observe life around the steaming vents and collect samples for analysis.

Both 274-foot vessel Atlantis and Alvin are owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The scientists’ focus will be marine viruses and other tiny life called protists. These organisms prey on bacteria, the primary food for vent dwellers ranging from ghost-white vent crabs to bizarre-looking tubeworms.

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