Hydrothermal Vent Fields Discovered in Mid-Atlantic Ridge
Scientists have discovered three new hydrothermal vent fields over a 434-mi.-long stretch of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge during the first scientific expedition aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s new RV Falkor (too).
The multidisciplinary science team representing 11 institutions from the United States, Canada and France used AUVs and ROVs to map 65 sq. mi. (170 sq. km) of seafloor at 1-m-scale resolution.
The discovery of the active hydrothermal vents is the first on this section of the world’s longest underwater mountain range, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, in more than 40 years. One of the discovered vent fields was located at the Puy des Folles volcano and has five active sites over 6.95 sq. mi. (18 sq. km). High-temperature “black smoker” vents were also found at the Grappe Deux vent system and Kane Fracture Zone.
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a target area for deep-sea mining and exists in international waters. All mineral resources-related activities in the area are regulated by the International Seabed Authority, established by the United Nations, which is currently considering whether to allow deep-sea mining.
Active hydrothermal vents are rich in metal sulfide deposits; mineral ore often affiliated with copper and zinc. In exploring the vents for the first time, scientists found rich biological communities. The vents were teeming with marine life, including massive swarms of vent shrimp and a rare sighting of bigfin squid. Many species found on vents live off chemical energy (chemosynthesis) instead of energy from sunlight, which doesn’t reach those depths.
Scientists are still learning about how these ecosystems function and the role they play for cycling carbon on our planet. The impacts deep-sea mining would have on hydrothermal vent ecosystems is unknown, and the discovery of active marine life underscores the need for more research to understand the effects.
RV Falkor (too) began its next expedition April 17, exploring deep-sea coral.