We Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Seafloor Eruption Paves Over Historic Vent Site


Capitalists visit Wall Street. Lawyers go to the Supreme Court. Marine biologists go to the “Rose Garden.” Or at least they used to.

Discovered in 1979 not far from the Galápagos Islands, the Rose Garden was an ocean scientist’s paradise, a hydrothermal vent site lush with life. Tubeworms covered the seafloor, their blood-red tips peeking out of slim, 6-foot white tubes. Like flower petals atop tall stems, they swayed in the shimmering breeze of warm vent fluids.

The surprising discovery of rich communities of life on the sunless seafloor fundamentally
rearranged ideas about the origin and evolution of life on Earth. It also offered entirely new perspectives on the search for life on other planets.

Scientists eagerly revisited the site in 1985, 1988, and 1990. They were intrigued to find that mussels and clams had started to overrun the tubeworms. In May 2002, they set out on Atlantis to find out how Rose Garden had changed in a dozen years. But they did not find Rose Garden, nor any trace of previous Alvin visits such as seafloor markers and dive weights. Instead they found fields of fresh lava.

“We think a seafloor eruption of lava since 1990 may have overrun and paved over Rose Garden—like Pompeii after Mount Vesuvius erupted,” said Tim Shank, the expedition’s co-chief scientist and a WHOI biologist. “It is a bittersweet reminder of just how dynamic the seafloor is.”

Not far from the original Rose Garden site—atop the new lava flow—Shank and colleagues discovered a new community of adolescent clams, mussels, and tubeworms, (large photo) some as small as an inch tall. They named the new site “Rosebud.”

“The new ‘Rosebud’ community could be very young—less than a year old,” Shank said. “This is an exciting opportunity to watch the development of a new community almost from its very beginnings.”

The 2002 Galápagos Expedition was funded by the Ocean Exploration Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, by the National Science Foundation, by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and by WHOI’s Deep Ocean Exploration Institute. For more information, visit www.divediscover.whoi.edu.