A Perspective on Mid Ocean Ridge Research

A Perspective on Mid Ocean Ridge Research

A Perspective on Mid-Ocean Ridge Research

by John Delaney

Over the past 38 years, since the discovery of submarine hydrothermal systems, Mid-Ocean Ridge (MOR) research has been immensely productive as active volcano-hydrothermal systems have been discovered along much of the 70,000-km length of this planetary-scale feature that is present in every ocean.

Major insights gained in the past four decades include: 

  • The powerful nature of undersea eruptions and the large plumes they eject into the overlying     water column;
  • The ever-changing nature of spreading-center environments including migration of molten rock into and out of crustal magma chambers, with its profound consequences for active hydrothermal systems and the exotic life forms they support;
  • Chemical-biological linkages in vent fluids, such as volatile variations, and dramatic salinity shifts in effluents capable of supporting wide-ranging microbial-viral communities;
  • Access to a broad spectrum of chemosynthetic, hyperthermophilic microbial communities heretofore inaccessible for investigation; and,
  • The discovery of an extensive, deep hot microbial biosphere extending well below the seafloor.

These and other exciting developments have been gleaned from a host of submarine volcano-hydrothermal studies implemented over the past four decades by researchers from many countries working across the spectrum of Mid-Ocean Ridge environments across the global ocean.  

Despite our amazing progress during these decades of research, studies of subsea MOR systems have had difficulty achieving certain objectives, such as: 

  •  The ability to consistently study all facets of a single volcano-hydrothermal system over     sufficient lengths of time (decades) to identify and quantify the significant interlinked changes; 
  • The capability to know continuously, and in real-time, the totality of interactive events that are taking place as entire systems evolve slowly or change rapidly; 
  • The opportunity to launch immediate responses, within minutes to hours, involving imaging, sampling, and mapping, and in situ analytical activities to characterize directly all significant changes in these highly dynamic eruptive systems; 
  • The ability to quantify processes and products of the transient events involved; and,
  • The capability to model, even in a rudimentary sense, the linked dynamic and energetic     elements of the system from magma filling a chamber to zooplankton grazing on the top of an eruptive plume.

Each of these items and a host of other objectives can be addressed through the deliberations on the table during the NOVAE 2015 Workshop. Participants will review and integrate the disciplines involved in understanding the major processes in volcano-hydrothermal systems. Discussions will lead to plans for exploring the next-generation capabilities, experiments, and novel technologies on the horizon. A key goal is generate and capture for later distribution and refinement the community strategies and approaches that will best capitalize on the existing and expansion opportunities of the OOI cabled natural laboratory at Axial Volcano.

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