Scientists gather in Oregon to decide next steps of mid-ocean ridge exploration

September 17, 1999

More than 130 ocean scientists from the U.S. and overseas will meet in Newport, Oregon, September 22-24, to plan a new decade of research into the geology, chemistry and biology of Earth's mid-ocean ridge system.

The conference, to be held at the Hatfield Marine Science Center is hosted by the RIDGE (Ridge Interdisciplinary Global Experiments) Program Office at Oregon State University, and funded by the National Science Foundation.

"The goal of the RIDGE program is to understand the geophysical, geochemical, and geobiological causes and consequences of the energy transfer within the global mid-ocean ridge system," says David Epp of NSF's marine geology and geophysics program, which funds RIDGE.

The RIDGE Program began a decade ago when scientists formally recognized a need for organized, interdisciplinary research into the complex volcanic, hydrothermal, and biological processes along the global mid-ocean ridge system. Since that time, they have explored more than ten thousand miles of previously unknown ridge area, while numerous new and exciting discoveries have increased the knowledge of deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, their relationships to the organisms that are nourished by them, and the volcanic and magmatic systems in the Earth beneath them.

The globe-encircling mid-ocean ridge system marks the boundary along which Earth's major plates form. The nearest examples to the U.S. are the Gorda and Juan de Fuca Ridges off Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The ridge system as a whole can be considered as a single 35,000 mile-long volcano that transfers massive amounts of heat and material from the Earth's deep mantle to the ocean floor and the oceans themselves.

"More than 70 percent of the earth's present surface -- almost the entire ocean floor -- has been created along this volcanic system in only the last 100 million years," explains David Christie, a scientist at Oregon State who serves as chair of the RIDGE Steering Committee. "If we think of the Earth as only 100 days old, more than 70 percent of it has been resurfaced in only the last four days."

At the lowest levels of the ridge ecosystem, abundant microbial populations are among the most primitive life forms on our planet. Recognition of these forms has prompted speculation that there are other parts of the solar system, especially the moons of Jupiter, that are capable of supporting similar life forms.

Scientists at the conference will identify opportunities and priorities for multi-disciplinary research in the next 5-10 years, building on recent successes and taking advantage of new and emerging technological developments.

For conference information, see:

National Science Foundation

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