Centre for Geobiology

New depth record for hydrothermal vent find

Centre for Geobiology leader, Rolf Birger Pedersen, is participating in a research cruise out of the University of Southampton.

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Together an international team of researchers and researchers from the "National Oceanography Centre" in Southampton aboard the RRS James Cook, have discovered the world's deepest deep sea hydrothermal vents, a field of 'black smokers', nearly 5000 metres down in the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean Sea.

The Cayman Trough is a volcanic spreading ridge that shares many similarities with the volcanic plate boundary zone that geologists at UiB have been studying in the Norwegian Sea. The black smoker hydrothermal field that researchers from the Centre of Geobiology discovered in 2008, Loki’s Castle, was the first vent field to be found in this kind of volcanic plate zone. Now, with the Cayman Trough discovery there are two, and together they will provide new geological and biological information about this previously unknown phenomenon.

Rolf Birger Pedersen was invited to participate in the cruise because of his extensive expertise in this type of geology, and his experience finding the Loki’s Castle field.

An American cruise paved the way for the discovery last autumn when they detected the tell-tale chemical plume in the water column. However, they were unable to discover the actual vent field location.

It may be that information about the Cayman Trough and its associated fauna will reveal if the new field is more closely connected to Atlantic or Pacific fields, which in turn may say something about whether currents or geological time are more important influences on the biological community.

Researchers aboard the James Cook used a special underwater tool, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), the Autosub6000, capable of diving to 6000m. The AUV was able to successfully navigate the dramatic volcanic landscape and to interpret information from its chemical and temperature sensors to find the new vent field.

In July summer 2010, CGB researchers and an international team will sail north again aboard the G.O.Sars to look for new northern hydrothermal vent fields along the mid-ocean ridge west of Svalbard. They will use a Norwegian developed AUV, the HUGIN in their search. HUGIN will undertake detailed sea floor mapping. It ill also search for natural gas leaks, developing strategies that will be important for monitoring of CO2 storage activity.

Learn more from the cruise web pages and from the Times, BBC, CNN and Globe and Mail.