Processes on The Gakkel Ridge
Shank, Biology Department,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutuion
The Gakkel Ridge in the Eastern Arctic Basin is the ultra-slow
spreading end-member in the global mid-ocean ridge system. As such,
it presents a model system for studies in crustal structure, duration and
magnitude of apparent volcanic seismicity, and a variety of dynamic
geochemical and biological processes.
The Gakkel Ridge is also
unique because of Arctic’s hydrographic isolation from other oceans.
There has been no apparent deep-water connection between the Arctic and
other ocean basins during its history, and modern communication with the
rest of the world’s oceans is limited to exchange across shallow
sills. As a result, Arctic hydrothermal species have likely evolved
in isolation from other vent-endemic fauna. The Gakkel Ridge affords
the opportunity to address hypotheses linking spreading rate to
hydrothermalism and crustal generation, as well as an opportunity to
characterize key processes in the evolution of isolated marine organisms,
new species and novel ecological systems.
Despite the impact of
potential scientific insights, the geological, chemical, and biological
characteristics of hydrothermal systems hosted on the Gakkel Ridge remain
unknown given the difficulties posed by surface ice conditions. New
instrumentation, technologies, and field strategies are critical to
advance deep-sea investigations in this ice-covered region, and permit
detailed multidisciplinary studies (e.g., mapping hydrothermal plumes, and
locating, imaging, and sampling biological communities and associated vent
fluids) of hydrothermal systems on the Gakkel Ridge.