Mission & Objectives
Scientists & Crew
|Expedition 9 Cruise Dates
Just over a quarter-century ago, a discovery
on the bottom of the eastern Pacific Ocean forever changed our
understanding of our planet, and life on it. Thriving at deep-sea
vents was a community of tubeworms, giant clams, white crabs,
and other species never before seen by humans.
Dive and Discover's Expedition 9 returns to the
Galápagos Rift, located on a mid-ocean ridge about 250
miles from the Galápagos Islands where hydrothermal vents
and exotic organisms were first found in 1977. In 2002,
researchers diving in the submersible Alvin discovered
that seafloor lava had
paved over a hydrothermal vent site called Rose Garden, wiping
out large communities of tubeworms, mussels, and other animals
living there. Rose Garden was gone, but further exploration
in Alvin revealed that life still flourished. A few
hundred meters away, tiny animals had begun to colonize a new
vent field in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption. Researchers
named the field Rosebud.
From RV Atlantis, researchers will
again use Alvin to see how the animal communities
have developed and what chemical, microbial and geological
changes have occurred. They will make detailed maps of
the animal distributions, take high-resolution photographs
to create photomosaics of the seafloor, sample the animals
and lava flows, as well as deploy time-lapse cameras, larval
traps, and chemical sensors directly at the vents. They will
also search for new animal communities and black-smoker vents
along still-unexplored areas of the Galápagos Rift.
As part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration Program, scientists
on Expedition 9 will build on knowledge gained from previous
expeditions to learn how the Rosebud hydrothermal vent community
Click HERE to
learn all about the discovery of hydrothermal vents made 27 years ago.
Click HERE to
receive a 25th anniversary CD-ROM of the discovery.
Expedition 9 returns to the Galápagos Rift to see how young, deep-sea
vent organisms living on a recently erupted lava flow have grown and changed
since they were discovered in 2002, on Dive and Discover's Expedition 6. Researchers
aboard the research vessel Atlantis will travel to the mid-ocean rift
valley in the eastern Pacific Ocean, located at 86°W.
Using the human-occupied submersible Alvin, deep-sea cameras, and specialized
chemical and biological sensors, researchers will spend two weeks exploring and
studying the hydrothermal vents. The vent site, named Rosebud for the young community
of animals found living there, is located 2,600 meters (1.6 miles) below the
sea surface. The home of these animal communities is a dark, volcanic undersea
valley about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) wide.
A nearby site, called Mussel Bed for its massive colonies of mussels, will also
be explored. It has been 15 years since scientists have visited Mussel Bed, and
they are eager to see if—and how—the area has changed.
Understanding survival in the deep sea
In the 28 years since hydrothermal vents were discovered along mid-ocean ridges,
scientists are still puzzling over how tubeworms, clams, mussels, and other organisms
populate these deep-sea oases. Tim Shank, a biologist at WHOI and the Chief Scientist
of Expedition 9, calls deep sea vents “Earth’s largest chemosynthetic
community,” where inhabitants live without sunlight. Instead they use dissolved
gases in vent fluids as their energy source.
“There’s no other place on the planet like this, yet we know little
about how young organisms living there colonize, assemble, and form new communities,” he
said. So understanding the factors that determine why animal larvae settle there
is a key first step to understanding the bigger picture of how seafloor life
has developed across the wide expanse of the ocean, and throughout time.
Tim was diving in Alvin in 2002 when he observed that a long-studied
hydrothermal vent field called Rose Garden, known for hosting lush communities
of animals, had been paved over by a lava flow. Days later, he was also among
the scientists who identified the new vent field, Rosebud.
Team work for science
The changes at hydrothermal vents involve many different, interrelated organisms
and processes. On Expedition 9, scientists will work as a team to figure out
how vents and vent life interact and operate.
Biologists will look at the ways in which the larger animals at the site, called
macrofauna, have evolved over the past three years. After collecting and
trapping samples of seafloor larvae, Tim, Stace Beaulieu and other biologists
from WHOI will look at the animals’ genetic composition. They will compare
this with genetic data of adult animals from the site.
Chemists will use state-of-the-art chemical sensors, developed by scientists
Bill Seyfried and Kang Ding at the University of Minnesota. Their instruments,
which will make measurements 24 hours daily for duration of the cruise, will
assess some of the key chemical properties of the venting fluids to get a clearer
picture on how vent chemistry influences the larvae’s settlement.
Microbiologists Naomi Ward and Kevin Penn of The Institute for Genomic Research
will collect microbe samples from rock surfaces and vent animals, and use genetic
techniques to identify microbes where vent animals colonize. This information
will help them understand the role that microbes play in the evolution of hydrothermal
Geologists will collect rocks and make seafloor maps using observations, photographic,
and bathymetry data collected by Alvin. At night, when Alvin resurfaces
to charge its batteries, WHOI geologists Dan Fornari, Susan Humphris, and Adam
Soule will slowly tow a digital deep-sea camera system—the WHOI TowCam—above
the seafloor to map the extent of lava flows. The information will help them
to better understand the volcanic and tectonic history of this part of the
rift valley and how it relates to the hydrothermal venting.
Each day will bring new samples, new discoveries, and new ideas about how hydrothermal
vents at the Galápagos Rift have changed since they were first discovered,
and new insights into how life evolves in these extreme environments on the