Life on the Ocean Floor: Antarctic Ocean Hydrothermal Vent Exploration

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Iceberg dangers complicated the exploration: Image courtesy of Professor Alex Rogers

Decoded Science: What was the most challenging part of the excursion?

Professor Rogers: “The weather was very challenging, especially during the first cruise to locate the vents. We encountered one storm with 16m swell. The presence of icebergs was also a hazard. Also moving the Remotely Operated Vehicle around the vent fields was very demanding on the pilots. We ended up with a few burns on Isis, our ROV!”

Decoded Science: Do you plan further excursions of this nature?

Professor Rogers: “We are planning to put in further funding proposals to continue with our work on the biogeography and evolution of the global hydrothermal vent fauna. We have just returned from the South West Indian Ocean where Jon Copley, one of my colleagues investigated newly discovered vents on the South West Indian Ocean Ridge where he discovered another yeti crab!”

Decoded Science: What do you hope that people learn from this?

CTD Launch: Image courtesy of Professor Alex Rogers

Professor Rogers: “Although vents form a very distinctive community, quite different from other deep-sea communities, I believe they have alot to tell us about the evolutionary history of the deep-sea fauna in general, and especially that of island-like habitats. For example, they are excellent systems for looking at dispersal of deep-sea animals between locations. They are also superb models of evolutionary adaptation from the molecular to ecological level. The fact that different species seem to occupy the same “niche” (similar habitat) in different oceanic regions is fascinating and is informative in the evolutionary dynamics of how animal communities form over geological timescales.”

Understanding Ocean Ecosystems

The ecosystems surrounding hydrothermal vents are extremely diverse, as well as fragile. In the words of Professor Rogers, “Hydrothermal vent ecosystems are soon to be the target of the world’s first deep-sea mining operations. It is therefore very important to understand more about the distribution of vent species, their capacity to disperse between sites and their ability to recover from disturbance.”

Reference:

Chown, S.L. Antarctic Marine Biodiversity and Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents. (2012). PLoS Biol 10(1): e1001232. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001232. Accessed January 3, 2012.

Click to Return to Page Two: Interview With Professor Rogers

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