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Hydrothermal Processes on The Gakkel Ridge

Timothy 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.