Extreme 2003: Hydrothermal Vent Grind

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is hosting students from around the world on a 23-day research expedition to the Pacific Ocean floor: Extreme 2003 - To the Depths of Discovery.

The students will use a submersible named "Alvin" to grind the edges of hydrothermal vents nearly two miles deep. Hydrothermal vents are locations on the deep seafloor where fluids heated by mid-ocean ridges mix into the overlying ocean. Vents come in gnarly shapes; chimneys called black smokers and white smokers are created that are up to one hundred feet high.

One purpose of the expedition is to study Pompeii worms, the world's most heat-tolerant animal, able to withstand water temperatures of up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. The worms live with one end in very hot water and the other in very cool water.

Fortunately, students will not be required to undergo surgical modifications to adapt them for permanent habitation of the deep sea rifts; see the recycler, a breathing device from Peter Watts marvelous 1999 novel Starfish exploring deep sea rifts.

Also, see the expedition website at Extreme 2003: The Depths of Discovery, as well as the reference article Marine scientists lead students on research expedition to hydrothermal vents on the Pacific Ocean floor.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/8/2003)

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