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Jill McDermott

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Hydrothermal Vents

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Jill McDermott standing in front of the Alvin submarine sphere. (Photo: Santiago Herrera)

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Hot fluid seeps out of a black smoker vent and mixes with the cold water at the Mid-Cayman Rise, the deepest part of the Caribbean Sea where two tectonic plate move apart and magma rises to create new seafloor. (photos: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Mid-Cayman Rise Expedition 2011)

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» Jill is collaborating with Bryan MacFarlane.

I study the chemistry of deep sea hydrothermal vent fluids – or what is commonly referred to as "black smoker" vents.  Discovered less than 50 years ago, scientists were shocked to discover highly productive ecosystems swarming around the vents.  At the base of the food web are microbes which depend on chemical energy derived from the vent fluids.  I dove twice in Alvin to experience the wonder of this firsthand, and most recently have been working with remotely-operated vehicles Jason and Nereus to explore and discover new hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean Sea near the Cayman Islands. Hydrothermal vents are one of the hypothesized locations for the origin, and sustenance, of life on early Earth, and the vents at Cayman provide an exciting opportunity to learn about these processes, and whether or not they can take place in the modern ocean.

Jill and Synergy

The landscape around a hydrothermal vent is visually stunning.  Knarled mineral structures are surrounded by swarms of animals fighting to get a 'good spot' in the gradient between 350°C vent fluid and 2°C seawater, as the hot fluid billows upward and away. Beauty is abundantly obvious here.  What is more difficult to convey is the significance of the science that brings us to the vents.  I am excited to participate in Synergy as a means to convey via art the excitement and importance of scientific discovery and inquiry into fundamental Earth processes.   

Last updated: June 28, 2012

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