On January 12, a team of marine scientists
from the University of Delaware and several other universities will depart on their first deep-sea expedition of
the millennium: "Extreme 2000."
The scientists will descend 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) to the seafloor aboard the famous deep-sea sub Alvin,
operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Led by chief scientist Dr. Craig Cary, the team will explore areas where underwater geysers called hydrothermal
vents occur in the Sea of Cortés off the west coast of Mexico.
The scientists will study the unique organisms that inhabit the vent sites, take samples of the toxic chemicals
released by the vents, and collect rocks and minerals for examination back home in the lab at the University of
One of the scientists' chief goals will be to search for new and exciting organisms that live in the chemical-rich,
super-hot water that spews out of hydrothermal vents. Some scientists believe the microscopic bacteria that inhabit
vent sites may be the closest relatives of the oldest life on Earth. These bacteria are also intriguing because
they may be useful to us in cleaning up oil spills, making food and medicines, and developing new products that
can withstand high temperatures.
Taking Research to the Extreme: Hydrothermal Vents
The discovery of life in the deep
sea was made only about a century ago. Previously, the ocean's depths were believed to be devoid of life. Today,
scientists are particularly intrigued by a number of unusual marine organisms that inhabit some areas of the deep
sea - at geysers called hydrothermal vents.
Here live foot-long clams reeking of sulfur, giant tubeworms
with no eyes or mouth, ghost-white crabs prowling for
prey, and the microscopic bacteria that hold together
this strange web of life.
Currently, scientists at the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies are conducting research at hydrothermal
vent sites to learn more about this "extreme" environment and its bizarre community of organisms.
After all, vent dwellers thrive under some of the most demanding conditions on Earth. They live in a world of
darkness where toxic chemicals abound, water temperatures exceed 113°C (235°F), and the atmospheric pressure
exerted on them from the tremendous weight of the vast ocean above is more than 250 times the pressure we feel
here on land.
Surf our Web site and learn more about this unique environment, the creatures that inhabit it, and the discoveries
that scientists are making to benefit humankind. Let's dive in!