JPL’s initial experiments to explore interior of volcanic vents

Gindi French
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Friday, August 28, 1998
12:00 Noon—Pacific Forum

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The search for life and organisms in extreme environments has led to one pathway which examines the apparent observation of gelatinous (jellyfish-like) veils of material associated with underwater volcanic vents. Although there have been few observations of this material, on at least one occasion the white material has appeared to actually come from the vent throat. Measurements of thermal conditions inside vents have produced a range of temperatures from near 80 to almost 350C. If there are indeed life forms present inside these vents, at temperatures about 200C, they are certainly among the most hardy of any known organisms, at least with respect to temperature. The goal of the present research is to develop an instrumented underwater probe which can be placed inside these deep-water, hot vents to determine temperature, chemical state, nutrient supply, organic material identification, and limited visual imaging. The initial development is for the basic probe, thermal measurements, and imaging of the vent walls.

Using a robotic arm controlled from within a submersible at a depth of 1,000–1,500 m, the probe will be placed into an underwater vent. The mission will investigate the possible presence of thin, jelly-like biomass that has been seen to form near or in hot (about 200 C) vents, located near the summit of the Loihi seamount, an underwater Hawaiian volcano. The team will have three opportunities to dive in October ‘98, with an operations time of approximately 5 to 6 hours on each dive.

Next: Evolution of the hydrothermal system at 9-10N, East Pacific Rise

Last updated: December 19, 2000