Archive for 12/29/2011

Jill McDermott

Smaller than a fingernail, like bits of downy red feathers, baby tubeworms cling to a vertical wall towering alongside the submersible Alvin 2,500 meters beneath the sea in 2006.

Repaved with fresh rock during an eruption at the East Pacific Rise, the walls mark the edge of the caldera of a deep-sea volcano.

We three—pilot Pat Hickey, biologist Timothy Shank, and I—are the first human observers of these new colonizers, which are still so young they don’t yet have tubes to protect them from hungry crabs.

Fresh rock on the seafloor is typically a glassy, iridescent black color, but these rocks are coated with a thick layer of white microbes.

The key to all this new life is the warm, shimmering, chemical-rich water bathing them.

Pressing my face to the 4.5-inch-round window, I have just encountered my first black smoker hydrothermal vent, where hot fluids, laden with chemicals and minerals, spew like smoke from chimney-like rock formations.

We have sampled fluids from the vent, collected rocks and animals around it, and seen how the gills of baby tubeworms flutter in the current.

I grew up far from the ocean, on the Canadian border in Maine, but my interest in hydrothermal chemistry was sparked when I met Karen Von Damm, a professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Karen was an MIT/WHOI Joint Program graduate student in the early 1980s.

She wrote her Ph.D. dis­sertation on the chemistry of the fluids gushing from the first deep-sea black smoker hydrothermal vents sampled on a mid-ocean ridge.

Karen, who died in 2008, devoted her life to understanding how vent fluids acquire their chemical composition, and how those chemicals support biological communities and affect the ocean.

I landed in Alvin thanks to Karen’s dedication to mentoring young scientists, coupled with her firm belief in the value of seeing a hydrothermal system firsthand.

Full story…

BBC News –

The head of Friends of the Earth, Nigeria, has warned that a recent oil spill off the country’s coast could have a severe environmental impact.

“We are concerned this will have a major impact on the ocean, on the coastline, as well as on fisheries,” Nnimmo Bassey told the BBC.

An estimated 40,000 barrels of crude oil have spilled into the Atlantic Ocean from the Shell oil field. Shell maintains that the leak remains offshore, is thinning and breaking up.

Shell’s chairman in Nigeria, Mutiu Sunmonu, told the BBC the leak was “regrettable” but the oil firm was attempting to “mitigate the consequences”.

Mr Sunmonu said he was confident that the five ships using dispersing agents and the evaporation of the oil meant the spill would not reach the shore.

“It gives me a lot of confidence that it will not impact on the coastline,” he told the BBC.

The leak occurred at the Bonga field, which is approximately 120km (75 miles) offshore and produces 10% of Nigeria’s oil exports.

It happened during a transfer of oil to a tanker.

Full story…

Michael Perry –

Anti-whaling organization Sea Shepherd said one of its boats chasing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean had issued a distress call after its hull was cracked by a rogue wave.

Sea Shepherd flagship the Steve Irwin was fighting heavy seas to help rescue the damaged Brigitte Bardot chase boat and is expected to take 17 hours to reach it, Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson said Thursday.

“This is disappointing, but these are hostile seas and we have always been prepared for situations like this,” said Watson via satellite telephone from the Steve Irwin.

“Right now the safety of my crew on the Brigitte Bardot is our priority and we intend to reach the crew and then do what we can to save our ship.”

Watson said the damaged boat would be returned to Australia, while a third vessel continues to chase the Japanese fleet.

The “Brigitte Bardot,” with a crew of 10 (three British, three American, one Australian, one Canadian, one Belgian and one South African), is about 1,500 miles southwest of the west Australian port of Fremantle.

Full story…