International collaboration leads to the discovery of three previously unknown hydrothermal vent fields along the world's largest underwater mountain range.
In a groundbreaking achievement, scientists from 11 institutions in the United States, Canada, and France discovered three new hydrothermal vent fields along a 434-mile section of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This marked the maiden scientific expedition aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s recently launched research vessel, Falkor (too).
Cutting-Edge Ocean Technologies Aid Discovery
The team utilized advanced ocean technologies, including autonomous and remotely operated underwater vehicles, to map 65 square miles (170 square kilometers) of the seafloor at a one-meter scale resolution, an area roughly the size of Manhattan Island.
This is the first discovery of active hydrothermal vents in this section of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in over 40 years. The researchers found the vent fields at the Puy des Folles volcano, the Grappe Deux vent system, and the Kane Fracture Zone.
A Successful Expedition Surpassing Expectations
Dr. Jyotika Virmani, executive director of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, expressed delight in the expedition’s success, which was made possible by the dedication of the scientists and crew as well as the capabilities of the research vessel.
Navigating the Complexities of Deep-Sea Mining
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge, located in international waters, is a prime target for deep-sea mining. The International Seabed Authority, established by the United Nations, oversees mineral-resources-related activities in the region and is currently evaluating the possibility of allowing deep-sea mining.
The active hydrothermal vents are abundant in metal sulfide deposits, which are often associated with copper and zinc. The first-time exploration of these vents revealed thriving biological communities teeming with marine life, such as vent shrimp and big-fin squid.
The Need for Research and Environmental Management
As scientists continue to learn about these ecosystems and their role in Earth’s carbon cycle, the potential impacts of deep-sea mining on hydrothermal vent ecosystems remain uncertain. Dr. David Butterfield, Chief Scientist, emphasized the importance of accurate scientific data and understanding colonization processes in developing environmental management plans for ocean mining.
Falkor (too) Embarks on Next Exploration
The successful 40-day inaugural expedition on R/V Falkor (too) highlights the potential of global ocean exploration, with plans to focus on a new region each year. The vessel’s next expedition will set off on April 17, targeting deep-sea coral.
Wendy Schmidt, co-founder and president of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, expressed the importance of continued exploration and understanding of deep-sea ecosystems before engaging in potentially harmful activities like mining.
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