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07-08-2024

New hydrothermal field in the Arctic has intense geological activity

In 2022, an international research team aboard the MARIA S. MERIAN made a remarkable hydrothermal field discovery. They found it 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) below the ocean surface.

The team uncovered the first known hydrothermal field along the 500-kilometer (310-mile) Knipovich Ridge.

This ridge is near Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Scientists have long studied this region for its harsh climate and unique ecosystems.

This finding revealed a hidden underwater landscape teeming with intense geological activity and unique marine life.

The discovery of such a vibrant ecosystem in the deep, cold waters of the Arctic challenges our understanding of where life can thrive.

Science behind hydrothermal fields

Essentially, hydrothermal vents are underwater leaks, spewing hot, mineral-rich fluids back into the ocean. These vents play a crucial role in the Earth’s geochemical cycles and support diverse ecosystems.

According to a key figure in the expedition, these vents occur as water seeps down into the ocean floor, gets heated by magma, and later resurfaces carrying its mineral loot.

The ascending fluid becomes enriched with minerals and other materials from the crustal rocks before exiting through tube-like chimneys known as “black smokers”.

These smokers are responsible for the precipitation of metal-rich minerals.

Jøtul field in Knipovich Ridge

The investigated field, christened “Jøtul” after a Nordic mythological giant, is nestled within the Knipovich Ridge.

The Ridge is part of a larger geological network formed by Greenland, Norway, and Svalbard, at the boundary of the North American and European tectonic plates.

Dubbed as a “spreading ridge,” this boundary is characterized by the gradual separation of two tectonic plates.

Intriguingly, the Jøtul Field is located on a slow-spreading ridge, which adds more significance to its discovery.

The expedition’s chief scientist from the University of Bremen, Gerhard Bohrmann, reveals the Jøtul Field’s scientific significance.

Its unique location and high methane concentrations attribute it an invaluable role in climate studies.

The Jøtul Field’s intense methane concentrations suggest an intense interaction between magma and oceanic sediments.

As methane travels through the water column, it is converted into CO2, thereby increasing oceanic CO2 concentration and contributing to ocean acidification.

Additionally, when it reaches the atmosphere, it behaves like a greenhouse gas impacting climate change. However, the exact magnitude of methane from the Jøtul Field reaching the atmosphere is yet to be closely studied.

In the absence of light

Notably, the Jøtul Field provides a home for special organisms that rely on chemosynthesis for survival.

In the complete absence of sunlight at such profound depths, it’s the hydrothermal fluids that form the base for a unique ecosystem thriving in the dark.

Future exploration at the Jøtul field

To understand the Jøtul Field much better, a new expedition is set to sail in the upcoming summer, once again under the leadership of Professor Gerhard Bohrmann.

The primary goal is to explore and sample unknown areas of the Jøtul Field. With comprehensive data from the field, researchers aim to draw comparisons with other known hydrothermal fields in the Arctic province.

The findings of the study form a part of the Bremen Cluster of Excellence titled “The Ocean Floor — Earth’s Uncharted Interface”, aimed at exploring complex processes on the sea floor and their impacts on global climate.

Certainly, the Jøtul Field will continue to be a center of attention in future research endeavors within the Cluster.

Technological innovations

The exploration of the Jøtul Field and similar hydrothermal realms has been made possible by remarkable advancements in deep-sea technology.

State-of-the-art remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) equipped with high-definition cameras, sophisticated sensors, and sampling tools allow scientists to delve into previously unreachable underwater territories.

These innovations provide real-time data collection and enable high-resolution mapping of the seafloor, crucial for understanding the complex interactions within hydrothermal systems.

The integration of advanced laboratory techniques onboard research vessels further facilitates immediate analysis and interpretation of samples.

As technology advances, we’re discovering incredible new insights into the ocean’s depths. This progress is leading us into an exciting new era of marine science.

The full study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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