Shining a light on deep-sea vents: Science meets policy

February 19, 2006

A statement of commitment to responsible research practices in the deep sea will be unveiled by InterRidge, an international scientific collaboration, at a special session during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in St. Louis, Missouri, USA on the 19th of February. The statement, written by key members of InterRidge on behalf of its 27 member countries, publicly reaffirms the science community's long-standing commitment to responsible research and provides a guideline for NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), regulatory bodies, and researchers new to the field.

"Although the ocean is vast and the sea deep, human impacts now reach all corners of the planet, and we must understand what we are impacting as well as the possible consequences," said Chuck Fisher at Penn State, former chair of the US Ridge 2000 program, a vent biologist, and a co-author of the InterRidge statement of commitment.

The special session titled "The Latest Ocean Ridge Research: Microbes, Mining, Management and More," which is hosted by InterRidge, will bring journalists, policy-makers, other scientists, and the public up to speed on the latest -- and sometimes controversial -- topics related to ocean-ridge exploration. "These groups are looking to scientists to take the lead in establishing professional standards," said InterRidge chair Colin Devey, who will present the InterRidge statement. "We want to make a clear statement about why vent research is important, how the scientists are going about it, and what they are doing to learn as much about the planet as they can without harming it," Devey said. Scientists first discovered undersea hot springs, known as hydrothermal vents, nearly 30 years ago. These vents, which are among the world's most extreme ecosystems, are found along the ocean ridge, 40,000 miles of underwater mountain range that zig-zags throughout the world's ocean basin. The vents spew super-hot, mineral-rich water that helps support exotic communities of animals and microbes. Issues surrounding research practices in vent areas have been sporadically discussed in the scientific literature since the late 1990s. Now, hydrothermal vents and the habitat they create are in the scientific, public, and political limelight as a result of improved technology that allows for greater studies of these remote areas.

Another influence is the proliferation of popular films and websites about the deep seafloor. "The increasing use of high-bandwidth imagery of the seafloor is making vent ecosystems more 'real' to the public than ever before," said Edward T. Baker, a supervisory oceanographer at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, who has participated in more than 30 hydrothermal research cruises. "If mining of hydrothermal deposits becomes profitable, the public will need, and I hope will demand, to become more aware of what is happening on their seafloor," he said. Several vent areas already have been studied for their potential as mineral resources; in fact, prospective mining work currently is taking place in vents located in the south Pacific.

Environment and policy discussions regarding deep-sea conservation and management now involve not only scientists but also conservation groups, industry groups, international and national government authorities, and even some tourism groups. A handful of vent sites already have been designated MPAs (marine protected areas), which are analogous to national parks on land.

"It is a concern that citizens already are touring the Titanic and some Atlantic vent sites with deep-diving submersibles," notes Steve Scott, a geology professor at the University of Toronto. "When Yellowstone Park -- which features geothermal geysers analogous to deep-sea vents -- was established in the mid-1800s, no ordinary person could get there because it was a four-day trip by horse from the nearest rail line, but roughly 3,000,000 visited Yellowstone last year," Scott said.

"The InterRidge statement of commitment is a case of 'science meets policy'," Devey said. "There has been a fundamental change in the public's interest in the oceans and in how the oceans are treated. Scientists have realized in the last few years that although they always have been careful with the marine objects they study, it is not enough," Devey said. "It's time for members of the science community to come out and stand up for what they believe and to fulfill their role as experts."
-end-
This press release is being issued jointly by InterRidge and Penn State University.

IMAGES:
High-resolution images are on the web at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/Fisher2-2006.htm.

SCIENCE CONTACTS (session speakers and topics):PIO CONTACTS:
Kristen Kusek at InterRidge, kristenkusek@aol.com, 727-822-6125
Barbara K. Kennedy at Penn State University, science@psu.edu, 814-863-4682

MORE INFORMATION:
InterRidge is an international program dedicated to exploring volcanic spreading centers at the bottom of the ocean, one of the Earth's last true frontiers. More information about InterRidge is on the web at www.interridge.org. More information on the AAAS meeting is on the web at www.aaas.org.

Penn State

Related Hydrothermal Vents Articles from Brightsurf:

New ethane-munching microbes discovered at hot vents
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen have discovered a microbe that feeds on ethane at deep-sea hot vents.

Hydrogen energy at the root of life
A team of international researchers in Germany, France and Japan is making progress on answering the question of the origin of life.

Solving the mystery of carbon on ocean floor
Little bits of black carbon littering the ocean floor, separate and distinct from the organic carbon believed to come from the ocean's surface.

Deep sea vents had ideal conditions for origin of life
By creating protocells in hot, alkaline seawater, a UCL-led research team has added to evidence that the origin of life could have been in deep-sea hydrothermal vents rather than shallow pools, in a new study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Simple hydrothermal method to produce tin dioxide for lithium-ion battery
In a paper to be published in the forthcoming issue in NANO, a group of researchers led by Wei Zhang from the Yunnan Minzu University, China have developed a simple, low cost and eco-friendly method to synthesize SnO2 nanorods for lithium ion batteries.

Detecting hydrothermal vents in volcanic lakes
Changes in the behaviour of hydrothermal vents may be indicative of changes in the volcanic system underneath, thus being a useful precursor for the next generation of early warning systems.

How deep-ocean vents fuel massive phytoplankton blooms
A new study suggests vents in the seafloor may affect life near the ocean's surface and the global carbon cycle more than previously thought.

Giant X-ray 'chimneys' are exhaust vents for vast energies produced at Milky Way's center
At the center of our galaxy, where an enormous black hole blasts out energy as it chows down on interstellar detritus while neighboring stars burst to life and explode. astronomers have discovered two exhaust channels -- dubbed the 'galactic center chimneys' -- that appear to funnel matter and energy away from the cosmic fireworks.

Japanese student discovers new crustacean species in deep sea hydrothermal vent
A new species of microcrustacean was collected from a submarine hot spring (hydrothermal vent) of a marine volcano (Myojin-sho caldera) in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan.

Microbes from marine volcanic vents reveal how humans adjusted to a changing atmosphere
The findings, published today in Cell by scientists at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), University of Georgia (UGA) and Washington State University, detail the structure of MBH, a molecular complex involved in microbial respiration.

Read More: Hydrothermal Vents News and Hydrothermal Vents Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.