Deep-sea vents discovered in the chilly Southern Ocean

Posted: February 16, 2011 by tallbloke in Energy

Scientists aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook, including Dr Clare Woulds from the University of Leeds, have discovered a new set of deep-sea volcanic vents in the chilly Southern Ocean.

The discovery is the fourth made by the research team in three years, which suggests that deep-sea vents may be more common in our oceans than previously thought.

Using an underwater camera system, the researchers saw slender mineral spires three metres tall, with shimmering hot water gushing from their peaks, and gossamer-like white mats of bacteria coating their sides.

The vents are at a depth of 520 metres in a newly-discovered seafloor crater close to the South Sandwich Islands, a remote group of islands around 500 kilometres south-east of South Georgia.

“I was sitting in my cabin after dinner when a colleague rushed in to tell me that we’d found a new vent – it was what we had been waiting for all cruise,” said Dr Woulds, from the University of Leeds School of Geography, who has been blogging from the research trip.

“We’re finding deep-sea vents more rapidly than ever before,” says expedition leader Professor Paul Tyler of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science, which is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. “And we’re finding some in places other than at mid-ocean ridges, where most have been seen before.”

Full story here:
Ship’s Blog here:

  1. Watch them:

    It would be important to find if its activity has been recorded as to relate it with other parameters.

  2. Tenuc says:

    Good post Rog, and thanks Adolfo for the link to the excellent video.

    As we have only explored a fraction of the sea bed the true number of vents of this size and bigger must be immense. Add in the billions of micro-cracks which exist in the schisosphere and the amount of syphonic ocean heating must be large.

    I think more research needs to be conducted in this area, so the effects on climate can be quantified and a better understanding of the total energy in the climate system can be understood.

  3. tallbloke says:

    Yes. The low figure given for geothermal contribution to Earth’s energy budget (around 0.1 Watt/m^2 ?) doesn’t take account of the thinness of the sea bed compared to land surface, or the coldness an thermal conductivity of the ocean compared to air as far as I know. The link between variation in Earth’s length of day and the motion of currrent of magnetically active molten material in the Earth’s core which current theory postulates means there could be significant variation in the amount of heat transmitted from Earth’s interior into the ocean atmosphere climate system.

    Given the lower sensitivity for co2 postulated by some scientists, it is a contributing factor which shouldn’t be ignored. It may well turn out to be too small a variation to significantly affect the climate issue, but we don’t yet know.

    Apart from the climate issue, the subject of the vents and their surrounding biology i facinating in its own right, o I thought it worth a post anyway. A glimpse into primaeval conditions, and clues about early life on Earth.

  4. David says:

    Thanks Tallbloke. Also I do not think the residence time of any flux change in energy to the oceans from geothermal is well considered. The residence time in some deep waters most be long indeed, many hundreds or thousands of times longer then the residence time of a like change in the atmosphere.

  5. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Tenuc says:
    February 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    “As we have only explored a fraction of the sea bed the true number of vents of this size and bigger must be immense. Add in the billions of micro-cracks which exist in the schisosphere and the amount of syphonic ocean heating must be large.”

    The number of seamounts on the ocean floor is quite large and any sonarman that pays attention can discover a new one during an ocean crossing. Add that to the rifting and faulting of the oceananic floor and there is plenty of places for warm and hot spring venting of geothermal energy.

    I wonder if any one has done a decent study of geothermal surface emission for someplace large? USGS maybe? Due to thinness and water the sea bed loses would be as high as 100 times greater per square area. pg

  6. Tim Channon says:

    Also remember that volcanic emissions are very rich in CO2.

    The black “smoke” is sulphur and that means that at least part of the emission is standard volcano output, ie. this is more than rock heated hot water.

    Normally there is intense CO2 output so a question arises about the solubility of CO2 in water at high water temperature and high water pressure.

  7. P.G. Sharrow says:

    CO2 is very soluable, below 500 feet(225psi) , I doubt that any likely temperature could drive it out. Sulphides give a very black cloud, smoker, of precipitates. CO2 would be colorless. pg

  8. AusieDan says:

    Could such vents be the cause of the Antarctic warmth re Steig vs O’Donnell?

  9. tallbloke says:

    Dan, welcome.
    Short answer is, I don’t know. A snippet I picked up was that the warming on the peninsular was mostly on the lee side of the main central mountain ridge and that a multidecadal increase in wind velocity might have something to do with it.

  10. P.G. Sharrow says:

    An active volcanic mountain range can’t have any effect. 😎 pg