Tag Archives: Schmidt Ocean Institute

Amusing Monday: A new hydrothermal vent field discovered off West Coast

The location of an unknown hydrothermal vent system was predicted by researchers studying maps of the seafloor along the Gorda Ridge off the West Coast. Following those leads, a group of underwater explorers looked for and found the shimmering cauldron of superheated water.

The discovery, during this year’s Nautilus Expedition, took place about a week ago in an area about 75 miles offshore of the border between California and Oregon.

As operators dimmed the lights from their remotely operated vehicles, the sounds of excited scientists filled the mother ship’s control room, where observers watched a video screen providing glorious views of the emerging flow (first video on this page).

“It’s like an artist’s rendition of another planet,” tweeted volcanologist Shannon Kobs Nawotniak of Idaho State University, where her team figured out where to look for the vents using high-resolution sonar bathymetry. Researchers named it the Apollo Vent Field in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year.

Check out more photos and videos on the Nautilus website, and learn more about the project in “The Alien Landscapes of the Apollo Vent Field.”

The out-of-this-world reference to another planet was not an accident, as NASA researchers are contemplating deep-sea explorations of other worlds. For example, space scientists would like to send an unmanned craft to Europa, the sixth moon of Jupiter, where they would drill down through ice up to five miles thick to reach a volcanically active ocean. On the ocean floor of Europa, they might find hydrothermal vents with the right warmth and minerals to support life — possibly similar to the microorganisms that began life on Earth.

This year’s Nautilus expedition involved a project known as SUBSEA, for Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog. The project, which ended about a week ago, is a partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and various academic research centers.

The Exploration Vessel (EV) Nautilus is a research platform equipped with two ROVs: the Hercules and the Argus. They are owned by Ocean Exploration Trust, founded in 2008 by Robert Ballad to explore the oceans.

Background on the SUBSEA mission is provided in a 26-minute video featuring lead scientists Darlene Lim of NASA’s Ames Research Center and Christopher German of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (second video).

Gulf of California

On an entirely separate expedition in February, scientists aboard the Research Vessel (RV) Falkor from Schmidt Ocean Institute discovered colorful towers of minerals up to 75 feet tall in the Gulf of California. These towers, along with a variety of sea creatures clinging to them, were not there during a previous expedition a decade ago.

“Astonishing is not strong enough of a word,” said Mandy Joye, a marine biologist at the University of Georgia who led the team that discovered the vents.

Check out the story “Deep-Sea Explorers Find Trippy, Rainbow-Colored Wonderland” by reporter Stephanie Pappas and the slideshow “Sea Life Thrives at Otherworldly Hydrothermal Vent System,” both in the online magazine “Live Science.”

Schmidt Ocean Institute, based in Palo Alto, Calif., is part of the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Network of Philanthropies. The institute owns the RV Falcone and supports its crew for teams of researchers from various institutions.

Coast of Oregon

The current expedition of the RV Falkor, led by Carolyn Ruppel of the U.S. Geological Survey, is studying methane seeps off the Oregon Coast. The cruise will add to ongoing knowledge about the hundreds of methane seeps that might become a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.

Live video from the ROV SuBastian is available during operational periods. Click at the top of the “Live from RV Falkor” page to connect to the feed when it is available.

As I post this blog, the live feed is accessible (video below).