The novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea described the wonders that lie hidden in the vast wilderness of the oceans. Now, a new NeMO is writing volumes about brand new discoveries. These are readily available to us with the aid of other modern marvels.
What I am specifically writing about is the Vents Program of The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. This project is headquartered at the Mark O. Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. Their workshop, however, is 200 miles west and a mile under the surface of the Pacific Ocean. That is where the Eastern edge of the Pacific plate runs into the Western edge of the Juan de Fuca plate. There along the tectonic ridge are a series of Hot Springs and three active volcanoes; It is where NeMO have tethered their instruments.
A recent lecture by Dr. Hammond director of the Vents program, gave a brief history of the twenty year project. He also teased us with some of the wonders that the team has found. The hot springs , with all of its new life, is a double and triple treat. These systems are similar to the hot springs of Yellowstone Park. They have a plumbing system that cycles mineral rich waters through them; leaving deposits, that are in some places being mined. Hydrothermal vents/black smokers/Hot Springs were first discovered in 1978. Since then it has been learned that they are very common, and in fact are found all over the world-at the bottom of the oceans.
The animal life is unique living off of the chemistry of the vents. There are entire ecosystems that survive by Chemosynthesis. Life without sunlight. There is so much life around and in these deep ocean hot springs that their bio-mass is greater than all of the life on the surface. The bacteria living around and inside of the vents plumbing is more closely related (DNA wise) to earth life than it is to those things we know as bacteria. It is this bacteria that supports the food chain of those depths. The tube worms and crabs, moray eels and fish feed either directly or indirectly upon them.
There is more to this program than just hot springs, bacteria and exotic animals. Along the Juan de Fuca ridge are also a group of volcanoes. There is one with a crater four miles wide and two miles across. Since NOAA has started studying this area it has erupted three times. The eruption of 1998 left a lava flow a mile wide and five miles long. These types of underwater eruptions account for 80% of all the volcanic activity on earth and it is hardly ever seen.
What makes this particular site so special? We've all seen nature features showing dives to this sort of place. Well, what makes this different is that you can go there now! Just double click New Millennium Observatory and you can explore both the future and the earth's past.
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