Ocean Life


Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?

Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?

In 1991, scientists aboard the submersible Alvin were in the right spot at the right time to witness something extraordinary. They had sailed into the aftermath of a very recent volcanic eruption on the seafloor and found themselves in a virtual blizzard. They were densely surrounded by flocs of white debris, composed of sulfur and microbes, which drifted more than 30 meters above the ocean bottom. The seafloor was coated with a 10-centimeter-thick layer of the same white material. This vast volume of microbes did not come from the ocean. The eruption had flushed it out from beneath the seafloor.

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The Grass is Greener in the Coastal Ocean

The Grass is Greener in the Coastal Ocean

Stretching from inland rivers and bays to the edge of the continental shelf, the coastal ocean accounts for about 10 percent of the ocean’s surface area. Yet this relatively small sliver of ocean contains about half of all the microscopic plants adrift in our seas.

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The Evolutionary Puzzle of Seafloor Life

The Evolutionary Puzzle of Seafloor Life

Most of Earth’s crust is manufactured at the bottom of the sea. Deep beneath the waves and beyond our view, magma erupts along a 40,000-mile volcanic mountain chain that bisects the ocean floors and encircles the globe. The lava flowing from these mid-ocean ridges solidifies into new ocean crust that spreads out and paves the surface of our planet.

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Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale Study Shows Sharp Decline in Mothers

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) report in today’s issue of the journal Nature that the population growth rate of North Atlantic Right whales has declined below replacement level because of increased mortality rates of mothers. The population numbers only about 300 and is predicted to become extinct within 200 years if the environmental conditions experienced by the whales in 1995 were maintained.

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Colonizing The Deep Sea: WHOI Scientist Helps Find Answers to Hydrothermal Vent Puzzle

For nearly 25 years, scientists have wondered how giant red-tipped tubeworms and other exotic marine life found at hydrothermal vents on the deep sea floor get from place to place and how long their larva survive in a cold, eternally dark place. Now Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Biologist Lauren Mullineaux and colleagues have helped answer those questions.

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Scientists Release First Images of Hydrothermal Vents Found in the Indian Ocean

Scientists exploring a remote area of the central Indian Ocean seafloor two and one-half miles deep have found animals that look like fuzzy snowballs and chimney-like structures two stories tall spewing super-heated water full of toxic metals. The findings, released on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Dive and Discover Web site (http://www.divediscover.whoi.edu/) were made at the start of a month-long expedition funded by the National Science Foundation. Images and data from the seafloor may provide critical answers to long standing questions about the diversity of life in the deep sea, how animals move from place to place and how the ocean crust is changing. A Japanese team is reported to have discovered hydrothermal vents in the Indian Ocean last fall, but little information has been publicly available.

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Deep-Sea Diaspora

Deep-Sea Diaspora

When spectacular biological communities were first discovered at hydrothermal vents in 1977, biologists puzzled over two main questions: How did these oases of large and abundant animals persist in the deep sea, where food is typically scarce? And how did these unusual species, which occur only at vents, manage to colonize new vents and avoid extinction when old vents shut down?

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ALISS in Wonderland

ALISS in Wonderland

In 1985, Cindy Van Dover, then a graduate student in biology in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program, discovered a novel light-sensing organ on a unique species of shrimp that lives at high-temperature, black smoker chimneys on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. If this photoreceptor were indeed some sort of primitive “eye,” the question instantly arose: At depths of some 3,600 meters, where sunlight cannot penetrate, what are these shrimp looking at? The search for a source of light in deep-sea hydrothermal environments began.

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Marine Snow and Fecal Pellets

Marine Snow and Fecal Pellets

Until about 130 years ago, scholars believed that no life could exist in the deep ocean. The abyss was simply too dark and cold to sustain life. The discovery of many animals living in the abyssal environment by Sir Charles Wyville Thompson during HMS Challenger’s 1872-1876 circumnavigation stunned the late 19th century scientific community far more than we can now imagine.

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