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Underwater exploration of underwater geysers

Underwater exploration of underwater geysers

Two Waikato University scientists are on a US expedition to study under water geysers – hypothermal vents that spurt out super-heated, mineral-rich water and all manner of marine life.

Professor Craig Cary, a professor in biology at Waikato is chief scientist and leading investigator on the 55 crew expedition that’s studying deep sea hypothermal vents in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Joining Prof Cary from Waikato is Dr Conrad Pilditch, a benthic (mud/soft sediment) ecologist.

The expedition, called Extreme 2008: A Deep-Sea Adventure, set sail this week from Mexico on the RV Atlantis (a US Navy vessel). Their first dive site will be about 1200km off Costa Rica. “We use a submersible called Alvin that crams in two scientists and a pilot to get to the sea floor,” says Prof Cary. “We’ll make eight dives to a depth of 2500 metres then we’ll head to the Gulf of California for six more dives in the Guaymas Basin.”

The scientists are studying marine viruses – tiny life called protists - and the part they play in the food chain in the vent ecosystem.

“These organisms eat bacteria - they have the most dramatic effect on the bacterial communities that support the vent system,” says Prof Cary. “Our research programmes are among the first to focus on these remarkable scavengers.”

Prof Cary works out of Waikato University and the University of Delaware, and for the past eight years has been running a major education programme for school students all over the world, called Extreme 2000. It’s all about the work his team does in extreme environments, and so far 750,000 students are doing the programme. They can track the expeditions, gain insight into marine research and how and why it’s done, the equipment that’s used and the creatures they find. The New Zealand schools involved in the project are Waikato Diocesan School for Girls and Mercury Bay Area School in Whitianga.

Prof Cary also has a team of scientists currently studying in Antarctica – three of whom hail from Waikato University. They’re studying microbes in extreme environments too and he’s going to try to link them with the scientists on the sea floor. “That’d be an amazing first,” he says.


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