Searching for New Life in the Ocean Depths

Because we still know relatively little about the deep oceans, it has often been suggested that we should switch our focus from exploring outer space and other planets to exploring these mysterious landscapes in our own backyard. Many researchers have postulated that we may eventually find the solutions to some of our most vexing problems, including human disease and fossil fuel dependence, within those dark recesses.

An international team of scientists, armed with an advanced set of robotic instruments, is heading to the Arctic Ocean to hunt for life along the little-explored Gakkel Ridge on the ocean floor. It won't be easy.

"This is a very risky venture," said Hanumant Singh, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who created the unmanned robotic vehicles that will navigate the icy waters around the Gakkel Ridge. "I'm prepared to lose a vehicle. ... But when you do a risk-versus-benefit analysis, it's absolutely worth it."While scientists have been aware of the presence of hydrothermal vents in the deep for many years now, no one has yet been able to find evidence of biological activity along the Gakkel Ridge. However, since the deepest parts of the Arctic Ocean have been isolated from the rest of the planet's oceans for up to 65 million years, the presence of organisms around these vents would show that "the very basis of life there has been evolving independently for tens of millions of years."

Scientists will use two robotic vehicles, Jaguar and Puma, to map the ocean floor and analyze water samples during their 50-day expedition. Also, another vehicle, the Camper, will take pictures and collect samples of shrimp and clams from the depths, whose DNA researchers like Singh hope will reveal a lot about their physical/chemical environment and their development.

"One of the things that's really exciting about this is that we are going somewhere that absolutely no one else has ever been," said Susan Humphris, another member of the expedition and a WHOI researcher.

Image courtesy of WorldChanging

Via ::Undersea search begins for life at top of the world (newspaper)

See also: ::Aliens of the Deep, ::Power and Fresh Water From the Deep Ocean, ::Hot Spot Sight-Seeing, ::Ocean's Twilight Zone Has Role in Climate Change, ::Animals of the Ocean, In Particular the Giant Squid

Tags: Arctic | Nasa

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