Students from around the world will take a voyage deep into the Pacific Ocean with scientists from the University of Delaware beginning Oct. 15 as part of Extreme 2001: A Deep-Sea Odyssey, a research expedition that will be broadcast internationally via the Internet.
A scientific team led by UD marine biologist Craig Cary will set sail that day aboard the 274-foot research vessel Atlantis from Puntarenas, Costa Rica, for a mission to the ocean depths that will continue through Nov. 1.
After a four-day trip to the Pacific Ocean dive site along the Mid-Ocean Ridge, the scientists will climb aboard the submersible Alvin and plummet to one of the most demanding environments on Earth — super-hot hydrothermal vents nearly two miles deep on the ocean floor.
Under Cary’s direction, researchers will study the vents and the organisms that inhabit them, including the Pompeii worm, which is known as the world’s "hottest" animal because it is able to withstand temperatures up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.
More than 13,400 students at 183 schools are participating in Extreme 2001. They represent 32 states, Australia, Canada, Guam, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico.
Starting Oct. 15, students and the public can log onto the expedition web site at www.ocean.udel.edu/extreme2001 to see the scientists’ latest discoveries via video clips, photos, interviews and journals that will be relayed daily back to shore.
Students also will have an opportunity to interact electronically with members of the research team, and selected schools will participate in a live conference call with the scientists as they work in Alvin on the seafloor.
"This project is about getting kids excited about science," Cary said. "We want to introduce them to one of the most fascinating habitats on the planet and engage them in the process of scientific research and discovery."
Hydrothermal vents are essentially geysers on the seafloor that continuously spew hot, mineral-rich water and help support a diverse community of exotic marine organisms, including towering tubeworms, eyeless shrimp, and vent crabs.
Vent dwellers have adapted to some of the planet’s most demanding conditions — high temperature, high pressure, and total darkness — and are the only complex ecosystem known to live on energy from chemicals rather than energy from the sun.
The vents, some of which are topped by soaring chimneys, are believed to play an important role in the ocean’s temperature, chemistry, and circulation patterns.
Scientists also believe that if there is life on other planets, it might be similar to vent bacteria.
"Every time we dive to the vents, we find something new," Cary said. "By studying ‘extremophiles’ like the Pompeii worm, we can better understand this amazing ecosystem and the human benefits it may yield."
Among its exploits, the research submarine Alvin is famous for exploring the wreck of the Titanic. The sub is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The Extreme 2000 Web site for last year’s expedition earned high marks from a variety of sources. USA Today, Yahoo, the journal Science, the BBC Best of the Web, the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, the Internet Scout Report, and E Tour all cited it as an entertaining and informative site.
Extreme 2001: A Deep-Sea Odyssey is sponsored by the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies and the Sea Grant College Program, with financial support from the National Science Foundation.