University of Delaware marine biologist Craig Cary really knows how to "get down." This past January, he led an international team of scientists on Extreme 2000 -- the first deep-sea expedition of the century -- to underwater geysers called hydrothermal vents over a mile deep in the Sea of Cortés off Mexico's west coast.
During the 11-day expedition, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Cary and his team took turns submerging to the seafloor in Alvin, the submarine that discovered the wreck of the Titanic. With Alvin's help, the scientists explored the super-hot vents and their bizarre community of organisms, from weird 4-foot tubeworms to intriguing new bacteria.
On Tuesday, March 14, at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Dr. Cary will report on the expedition and its discoveries in a special presentation, "A Voyage to Life's Extreme: The Deep Sea." The lecture, which includes lunch, is the third in a four-part series sponsored by the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies and the Sea Grant College Program.
Hydrothermal vents are of great interest to scientists because they are among the most extreme environments on Earth. Water as hot as 750° F and a stew of toxic chemicals rockets out of the vents. The marine organisms that inhabit vent sites not only thrive in these high-temperature, chemical-rich conditions, but they also can withstand the tremendous pressure from the weight of the vast ocean above them and live in total darkness.
"Vent organisms have evolved the ability to live and thrive under extremes of pressure, temperature, and chemistry," Dr. Cary says. "Their ability to do this involves special biochemical adaptations that, if understood, could be used to improve many industrial processes, for example those used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. Already, several enzymes from vent microorganisms have been borrowed to help biomedical researchers accelerate their capabilities in the lab," he notes. "We believe there are many more important resources to be discovered -- all we need is the time to look."
Dr. Cary says he got hooked on marine science at the age of 15, thanks to a teacher with a special interest in marine biology. To share the Extreme 2000 expedition with middle- and high-school students and the public, he worked with outreach staff at the college and with PBS station WHYY-TV, who developed a resource guide, video, and Web site for the project. Video clips, photos, and journals of the scientists' findings were uploaded daily to the Web site: www.ocean.udel.edu/deepsea. A highlight of the expedition was a conference call between students in 11 schools in Delaware, New Jersey, and California, and Dr. Cary as he worked on the seafloor in the submarine.
A member of the UD faculty since 1994, Dr. Cary conducts research in the deep sea to coral reefs, as well as Mid-Atlantic waters, where he is investigating the toxic microbe Pfiesteria. He received his bachelor's degree from Florida Institute of Technology, his master's degree from San Diego State University, and his doctorate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The lecture, which includes lunch, begins at noon. The cost is $10 per person, and advance reservations are required. To make reservations, call (302) 831-2841, or send an e-mail to MarineCom@udel.edu. The last lecture in the series -- "A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean: All You Ever Wanted to Know about Blue Crabs and More" -- will be held Tuesday, May 23.