Recent Questions

  • Roy Deremer, Warwick School District, Lititz, PA

    Hi to Dave and all the REVELers (from fellow REVELer 1998). I see that you are going back to the cut-off structures that we collected in 98.
    I could pick up some of the pictures of the structures ... It looks like some changes have taken place . Has there been recent earthquakes to topple any or do you see new signs where magma has come to surface nearby?
    Are you sending cups down to see them crush? I still wish I could have finished my experiment in ? to see if they crush slowly or all a once. Has anyone given that any thought or watched as they descended?
    Also for the REVELer from Hershey. I live between Hershey and Harrisburg and teach in Lititz, and my wife is a Research Analysist for Hershey Foods.
    I am very glad to see another Pennsylvania REVELer onboard, and one from the neighborhood at that! Will you be presenting at PSTA in Hersey this year?

    Oh one last question. Can you bring me back a pillow lava for my classroom? Just kidding (thought Véronique and Dave would like that question)

    Best wishes. I wish I was there with you. Take care, Roy

    Hi Roy,
    It’s great to hear from you.

    There have been some changes in Mothra, but no signs of new magma that’s come to the surface. In 2003 a sensitive array of seismometers was put in place around the vent fields of the Endeavour segment. When the data was collected and analyzed last summer it was discovered that almost 13,000 small earthquakes occurred in the region. Most of these earthquakes were due to cracking rocks and shifting magma under the seafloor. As far as we know, none of them caused the sulfide chimneys at Mothra to topple. A big change that we spent some time looking at with the High Definition camera was the evolution of Finn. When we collected its top in 1998 it was a black smoker that didn’t have a lot of macrofauna on it. Since then it has grown 6 to 9 meters and now has lush communities of tubeworms growing on it. We have been sending cups down. Lots of them. We haven’t been able to watch them crush, but there has been a lot of discussion about it and everyone is amazed when I bring up your discovery that Styrofoam can crush and then spring back to its original size if it isn’t pressurized enough.

    Carol is looking forward to connecting with you, although she won’t be presenting at PSTA. The deadline for presentations was last spring and she didn’t know she was going to be involved with REVEL at that point.

    And . . . I almost hate to mention this, but Jason pilot Jim Varnum tossed a big piece of pillow basalt into the basket on a recent Jason dive. It’s “for the teachers”. It’s in the main lab now, and we haven’t figured out how we’re going to split it up into pieces yet. A hammer will spoil the beautiful obsidian that encrusts itt so stay tuned. Maybe Carol will show it to you.

  • Fantastic website! I am enjoying cruising throught the daily logs and catching a flavor for the work you are doing this Fall. It all sounds like fun.
    In the September 19 log you reported that the area of Sasquatch you were visiting showed increasing hydrothermal activity. Is it possible that region is experiencing a rebirth? What other clues might point to rejuvenation? Have any animals been sighted there?
    Cindy Maldonado,
    Three Rivers Christian School, Longview, WA

    The Sasquatch vent field is the northernmost of the vents along the Endeavour segment. It is a very small field, only visited 4 or 5 times. Its existence was theorized, based on CTD data, in 1987. It was actually found during an Alvin dive in 2000. Since it is so recently identified, it has not been studied as extensively, and the available data is very short-term. It is an old vent field, and based on the size of the structures found there, was very active at one time. Deb Glickson describes it as similar to the Mothra field where we have also been working. Since the discovery of Sasquatch in 2000, it has been visited on Tiburon dives in 2002 and 2004. Compared to previous observations, there is greater flow, and greater diffuse flow, than before. There is no way to know yet whether this is a temporary state, possibly due to seismic activity stirring up the subsurface plumbing, or a resurgence of activity. It would take a longer time-series of fluid chemistry data to begin to answer that. The critters at Sasquatch are similar to those found elsewhere along Endeavour- spider crabs, limpets, tubeworms, but not as abundant. Because of the relatively low flow, the food supply may not be as appealing.

  • What other countries are studying these undersea formations?
    Derek Knutson,
    Crater High School, Central Point, OR

    The main countries involved in studying hydrothermal vents include: Canada, France, Russia, Norway, Japan, China, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Korea, and India. The last two are in the beginning of their research. In addition to these efforts, there are individual scientists from around the world who are participating and contributing to understanding of these amazing structures. Some of them may be working with samples brought back by colleagues or analyzing data from others in their field.

  • How is everything? Why do black smokers make black smoke?
    Cristo Larios,
    O’Leary Junior High School, Twin Falls, ID

    Mrs. Dodds says everything is really exciting, Chris. Every day is bringing new surprises!

    In answer to your question, that “smoke” isn’t really smoke at all, but hydrothermal fluid rising from a vent in the seafloor. The hot fluid itself is composed of many different elements and compounds. According to Dr. Jeff Wheat, a geochemist, fluid samplers are presently looking at more than 35 different hydrothermal chemicals that may effect the growth of vent microbes.

    While the hot fluid is still inside the seafloor it is colorless and transparent. It contains a lot of sulfide (S 2) ions along with metals like iron, copper, and zinc. In the hot fluid under the seafloor these chemicals remain dissolved, but when the water hits cold seawater they become solid again (precipitate) in the form of powdery minerals that look like smoke. The mixing with seawater also causes chemical reactions to occur, creating new minerals like iron sulfide (FeS2, pyrite or “fool’s gold,”) copper iron sulfide (CuFeS2, chalcopyrite,) and zinc sulfide (ZnS or sphalerite.) According to Deb Glickson, graduate student, tiny grains of these sulfide compounds are what give the fluid its blackish appearance. And for your information, not all smokers emit black “smoke.” Depending on the location of the vent region and the composition of the rocks beneath it, there can also be white smokers. These have a whitish appearance when the gypsum and zinc minerals precipitate out of solution. (See the Science section of the REVEL website and click on “Smoker Development” for more information.)

  • How do tube worms breathe down there in that environment? Do they respire aerobically?
    Brittany Janz ,
    Anacortes High School, Anacortes, WA (Mrs. Swanson’s class)

    Hello, Brittany, Sounds like you’ve been studying how cells work. As you know every cell in an organism needs energy for metabolism. They need several things to do this. Two of them are an energy-rich compound and an electron acceptor, like oxygen, that helps release the energy in the compound. Human cells get much of their energy from energy-rich glucose when it is broken down with the help of oxygen. Oxygen is one of several substances that help release energy by accepting electrons. As I think you know, when oxygen is used as an electron acceptor we call this process aerobic respiration. How does this apply to those weird and wonderful tube worms near hydrothermal vents? First of all these amazing organisms can’t eat for themselves since they don’t have a mouth or a digestive track. They depend instead on the food from tiny bacteria living within them in a special tissue called a trophosome. The bacteria manufacture food from the sulfide compounds in the hydrothermal fluid and share some of it with their host. The tube worm does its part by delivering oxygen to the bacteria by means of a well-developed circulatory system that includes the bright red plume that collects oxygen from the water. Because the oxygen-carrying compound, hemoglobin, is the same one we humans use, the color of tubeworm blood is bright red like ours. And since they (and their symbiotic bacteria) are using oxygen as an electron acceptor, we would consider this aerobic respiration.

  • What depths can Jason work at? What is the maximum PSI that it can function at, and is it ‘harder’ to operate at greater depths? What is Jason’s maximum mission time?
    Mitch Hetterle ,
    Anacortes HS, Anacortes, WA

    Great questions, Mitch. Jason is an incredible ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) that can dive to depths of 6501 meters. Jason’s dives along the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Plate have been between 2200 and 2400 meters. A cable is unwound from the stern of the ship as Jason and then Medea are launched. It is very important that the tether that connects Medea and Jason does not get wound up or kinked as they descend. The pilot and engineer monitor this carefully all the way down. As they are going down, Jason is under Medea and Medea is directly under the ship. Jason can stay down 70-80 hours before having to come back on deck to have its vitals (oil and such) checked. In winds greater than 25 knots, Jason is not in the water because the ship it’s attached to is moving up and down too much in the waves. It isn’t any harder to work very deep than it is at the surface. The water doesn’t get thicker because of the pressure.

    For every increase of 10 meters (or 33 ft), there is an increase of 1 atmosphere. At sea level this is also 14 pounds per square inch (psi). So at our dive depth on the Endeavour Segment there is approximately 3000 psi of pressure. To answer your question about the maximum psi, at 6500-meter depth, there would be approximately 9100 psi.

  • I learned that pretty much all the animals that live on the hydrothermal vents rely on bacteria but does the bacteria need light to grow there or does it rely on something else?
    Lizzie Lee,
    Tolt Middle School, Carnation, WA

    Hi Lizzie. At the hydrothermal vents there are microorganisms that use chemosynthesis reactions to live and grow instead of photosynthesis or energy from the Sun. These bacteria can convert dissolved hydrogen sulfide and methane to provide them with energy. Other bacteria decompose organic matter and they derive their energy in this manner. The chemosynthetic organisms form the base of the food chain. For example, tubeworms depend on chemosynthetic bacteria and in turn, crabs feed on the tubeworms and octopus eat the crabs.

  • What is the average pressure at the depths you visit? How often do you find new species?
    Nathan Conder
    Twin Falls High School, Twin Falls, ID

    Nathan, Mrs. Dodds waves her hello to you while she is diligently mapping the Endeavor Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge. To answer your first question, the average depth the scientists visit the vent fields with Jason II is around 2200 meters deep. To understand the type of pressure they encounter, first think about air pressure on land. The air pressure at sea level is 1 kilogram per square centimeter, also known as 1 atmosphere. For instance, for every square centimeter of surface area on your body there is 1 kilogram of force pressing on your body. However, when you enter the water, the pressure increases because the water is added weight pressing down. In water the pressure is 1 atmosphere for every 10 meters of depth. So, if you could swim down to the depth that Jason II is working, the pressure on your body would be 220 kilograms for every square centimeter of your body! Fortunately, Jason takes care of the scientist by diving to those deep depths for them.

    Spencer Nyholm, a marine biologist from Harvard University, who is currently working on board the RV Thompson, noted that vent biologists discover new species every year. He explained that as we begin to look at organisms on a micro-scale that the diversity is even greater and we can expect to discover hundreds of new species.

  • How long did it take to build Jason II? And when did you start building him?
    Wenonah Abdilla ,
    7th grade, Hershey Middle School, Hershey, PA

    Hello Wenonoah! Hope all is well in Hershey. After talking with one of the Jason II pilots, Jim Varnum, the story of Jason II is an interesting one. It seems that the making of Jason II actually begins with the making of Jason I, which actually began with the tests on a vehicle called a DSL 120. The DSL 120 is an underwater vehicle, tethered to the ship via a fiber optic cable that uses sound to map underwater terrain. After producing Jason I, engineers experimented with new electronics, mechanics, and software on both the DSL 120 and Jason I. An example of a new design implemented on Jason II is a navigation program called auto X - Y that was first tested on Jason I before they built Jason II. Overall it was a 4-5 year process of developing and building Jason II. The production began in 2001 and Jason II was sea tested in the spring of 2002.

    Hi REVEL teachers,
    This is Joan Carlson from Laguna Hills High School in Laguna Hills, CA. I teach 3 classes of Biology and 2 classes of Introduction to Life Science. My students are 9th and 10th graders.
    I am introducing the hydrothermal vent ecosystem this week as we start our ecology unit. In preparing the unit I was investigating the REVEL website. One aspect of “Linkages Between earthquakes and Microbial Productivity” in the science section of Vision 2005 puzzled me. How are earthquakes related to microbial productivity? What kind of correlations do scientists expect to find? The only correlation I can think of is that if there is more vent fluid present, more microbes can live.

    Hi Joan,

    Thanks for the great question. It’s tricky and the connection between earthquakes and microbes isn’t an obvious one.

    Many things can cause earthquakes at the spreading center. Two of these causes are rock cracking as it's exposed to cooler water moving down through the seafloor and by magma moving up and creating dikes. In both cases nutrients for microbes are released.

    Magma releases hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide as it cools and depressurizes when it moves upward. All three of these chemicals can act as nutrients for both aerobic and anaerobic microbes. Earthquakes caused by cracking rocks can also open up new channels for these magmatic gasses to move up toward the seafloor. The rising magma also heats the surrounding environment creating hotter hydrothermal fluid that carries more nutrients. And you’re right about the fact that earthquakes can open up cracks that cause increased hydrothermal circulation that will feed more microbes.

    Another less obvious way is through the release of hydrogen directly from the rocks. As rocks crack more seawater can reach greater depths in the seafloor. The iron in the rock reacts (is oxidized) with the seawater releasing hydrogen that can also nourish microorganisms. It’s interesting to note that the hydrogen from this reaction has a different isotopic signature than hydrogen released from magma, so scientists can tell where the gas is originating.

  • Because you are working at the Mothra site and Main Endeavour, have you visited any of the “stumps” from the vents that were harvested in 1998? If so, has there been any change to them? Also, has there been any change in the vent activity in these areas?
    Midge Yergen REVEL 1998
    West Valley Middle School, Yakima, WA

    Funny you should ask that!

    In 1998, four sulfide structures were cut and brought to the surface for further scientific study and for exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Three of those were active, and one of them, named Phang, was extinct. We’ve been back to Mothra during this cruise and it has changed. Phang is now active, as are the other three. Just yesterday our report stated that one of the structures cut in 1998, Finn, has grown 5 to 9 meters. Gwenen also has new growth on top with three Christmas tree like structures growing out of it. Roane still has a fairly flat top where it was cut. It is topped with a small bush of tubeworms and was the site for one of Deb Kelley’s Microbial Sulfide Incubators. In general the hydrothermal activity in Mothra has changed since you worked here in 1998. Some of the scientists think that it has increased, but John Delaney is reserving judgment until data proves it. Venting activity may have just shifted around within the field.

  • How far down does the magma lie under the vents?
    Stephanie Poletti
    Grade 9, Crater High School, Central Point, OR

    Great question, Stephanie! As you know magma is liquid rock, in this case, under the seafloor. It tends to collect in pockets called magma chambers as it rises upward through the crust. Magma chambers are found in many areas of the world's oceans. Spreading zones occur when hot magma (around 500-700 °C) rises to the surface where the Earth’s plates are moving away from each other. This process isn't a smooth one and numerous earthquakes happen as magma pressure cracks the crust and pushes its way to or near the surface. Geologists estimate that 90% of the world's strongest earthquakes happen underwater, many of them at spreading zones. The cooled material creates new oceanic crust and underwater mountain chains called oceanic ridges.

    Geologists can measure the depth of magma chambers by setting off underwater explosions (after looking out for wandering whales!). They track the path of these sound waves as they bounce off the different layers of material in the seafloor. The picture at the right shows the sonic image of the layers under the Main Endeavour hydrothermal vent field in the Endeavor Segment. The top of the magma chamber is seen as a line below the red dots that indicate the location of earthquakes.

    Your question about the depth of the magma turns out to be a key point. According to Dr. Andrew Barclay, one of our team of ocean-going seismologists, shallower magma chambers tend to be hotter and create more spreading activity, while deeper and cooler chambers are less active. The magma chamber under the Main Endeavor Field is about 2.5 km down and the seafloor above it is spreading apart at about 6 cm per year. This is a medium-deep chamber with a middle range spreading rate. The fastest spreading zone in the world is in the tropical Pacific at a place called the East Pacific Rise where spreading rates are 10-20 cm/year!

  • How do scientists know how to find the same vents again?
    Amy Dundorf
    Age 12, East Pennsboro Middle School, PA

    Hi, Amy,
    I'm writing to tell you that I just spoke to your ocean-going REVEL mom, Carol Dundorf, and she's sending salty hugs to you and your family!

    Your question about how we locate underwater sites like vents again starts with an understanding of how we find them in the first place.

    Usually there are clues that first lead scientists to the general vent area. These could be a pattern of earthquakes near an active spreading zone like here on the Juan de Fuca Ridge. When scientists suspect that a vent system may be present, they can send down a manned or robotic sub to take a look at the terrain, mapping the features they see.

    Sometimes a lucky accident can lead scientists to a hydrothermal vent. Dr. Marv Lilley, a geochemist on board the RV Thompson, recounted the exciting discovery of a "mega plume" of vent fluid in 1986 that was located when an oceanographic ship just happened to be sampling water in the area soon after an underwater eruption. Hydrothermal plumes are like underwater smoke stacks rising from a vent source. They contain a special blend of warmer water with dissolved carbon dioxide, helium and hydrogen from the vent below. These days CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) samplers are routinely used to home in on new vents. (See "Prospecting for Plumes with a CTD" on the REVEL website's "Mapping the Water Column section.")

    However they are located, Amy, you're right, scientists will want to return to the same vent again. They want to study how each vent is different and how a vent may change over time. Whenever a new vent is discovered its location is plotted on an underwater map and notes are made of the recognizable features near by. The vent's depth, its latitude and longitude, and its local X-Y reference coordinates are recorded. Sometimes a reflective sonar marker is left as well.

    In the past few years signaling devices called homers, are becoming more popular as well, according to Jason navigator Dara Scott. When Jason returns to the general area of the vent it receives a special signal from the homer. With the aid of their previous notes, coordinates, and visual markers, the pilot can then guide Jason back to the same vent again.

  • As part of the REVEL group that was at sea with the MBARI/UW team in 2003 when some of the short and long period seismometers were placed, I am curious if the packages that are being “reconditioned” are short or long period, if ‘glass beads’ are involved again and what the data is showing about the seismicity of the vent field over the last year.
    Midge Yergen
    , Science Teacher, West Valley Middle School, Yakima, WA

    Hi Midge.
    So far on this cruise, 3 short period and one broad band seismometers were pulled out at Nootka and 1 broadband seismometer was pulled out at the Explorer Plate. If weather permits, 7 short period and 1 broad band seismometer will be pulled out at the Endeavour segment to replace batteries and check to make sure the data logging is working. Then they will be placed back in the same spot.
    Yes, the glass beads are still being used for the broadband seismometers. The seismologists use these small beads to back fill the area in which the seismometer is buried so the sediment won’t settle on top of the seismometer and the seismometer is in a very stable environment. Seismologists are hoping that they won’t have to replace the beads at the Endeavour site to save time.
    The data is good, but many months of work will be needed before this year’s data can be analyzed. The SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System) website ( has quite a few earthquakes for the Endeavour Segment area that are magnitude 2.5 or greater. The data for the Endeavour segment that was collected will have recorded events with magnitudes lower than 3 and should be at least ten times the amount recorded by SOSUS.
    Since you sailed with this same group in 2003, you’ll be interested to find out that the seismometers deployed between August 2003 and August 2004 recorded 12, 792 earthquakes on the Endeavour Segment. Out of this amount, 2, 000 earthquakes have been thoroughly analyzed since the recovery of the instruments from the seafloor by a small army of students. Analysis will continue for many years.

  • When tubeworms and spider crabs come up why don’t they explode like other creatures from the hydrothermal vents?
    Drew Matheny
    , Tolt Middle School, Carnation, WA

    The area that is being studied at the Endeavour Segment of the Juan de Fuca Plate is approximately 2200 meters deep. It takes an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes for the elevator to surface. No organism that has come to the surface has exploded. The reason is that there are no gas or air inside the body and tissues of these animals. It is gases that expand as the pressure decreases when the animals are moved fr4om the deep seafloor toward the surface.

  • Is there anything alive in the hydrothermal vents? If so, how can they live if the water is so hot?
    Jared Fuller
    , O’Leary Junior High School, Twin Falls, ID

    Yes Jared, there are many organisms at the hydrothermal vents. For instance, there are bacteria, tubeworms, scaleworms, snails, limpets, and vent clams that live where fluids are flowing with hydrogen sulfide, the necessary ingredient for them to survive. Octopi, spider crabs, squat lobsters, brittle stars and rattail fish are found preying on other living things around the vents. Most organisms in this environment do not tolerate super hot water. Typically they are found around diffuse vents where the temperature ranges from 36° to 86° Fahrenheit. There are species of microbes found in the walls of chimneys, where the fluid in the vent can reach temperatures up to 700 ° Fahrenheit! The highest temperature that scientists have cultured vent organisms is 250° Fahrenheit. Other organisms that like a really hot environments are the sulfide worm, Paralvinella sulfincola, and the Pompei worm, Alvinella pompejana, which lives with its hind end in 176° Fahrenheit and its head poking into a cooler 72° Fahrenheit mixture of vent fluid and seawater. Although scientists are finding many species that are adapted to live at hydrothermal vents they do not fully understand how the organisms are able to tolerate the high temperatures.

  • What do you all find most interesting about Deep Sea Vents and why do you feel it is necessary to study them?
    Anya H.
    , Marymount School, New York, NY

    Hello Anya,
    Wow! You have a good question and big question! After interviewing several people on board the RV Thompson this answer should provide you with a global picture about why scientists find the hydrothermal vents interesting and important to study.

    The hydrothermal vent system is a completely alien environment to humans. It is a place where new seafloor is being created and is a completely different ecosystem that was only first discovered in 1977. The idea that massive bodies of earth are moving while creating these unique ridges and supporting strange forms of life on the ocean floor is intriguing. It is fascinating to go to the bottom of the ocean and see the geological features. To actually see the deep sea vents and the life there is remarkable. The vent systems are cool to study because they are challenging and they are a point where all disciplines must come together in order to study them.

    We should understand the connection between earthquakes and vent fluid flow. Do earthquakes influence vent fluids or do vent fluids influence some of the earthquakes? And how does this interaction support life? Studying the chemistry can be useful in understanding how the plumbing of vent systems work. We need to know how it works. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t try to understand our own environment and without exception, the study the hydrothermal vents rivals the importance of studying the photosynthetic zone in the ocean. It is greatly under-studied. For instance, we made it to the moon before we discovered these systmes. The vents are an amazing environment that are among the oldest systems of the earth and may be a link to alien life. It is a welcomed challenge to study this area and design the equipment to endure this harsh environment. More important, studying this environment forces us to be innovative and is an opportunity for pioneering ideas.

  • If the volcano is dead, then are there still living creatures?
    Kylar Savage
    , O’Leary Junior High School, Twin Falls, ID

    Hello Kylar,
    Thank you for your question. Mrs. Dodds says hi!

    Actually, Kylar, the deep-sea creatures that live on the seafloor in the area we work in and that you might have seen on the web site need the warm, hydrothermal fluids that provide them with nutrients to make a living. If the volcano is completely extinct, then the fluids are not warm anymore because they are heated up by the magma that lies underneath the volcano. If the magma is gone or has completely cooled, there are no warm fluids and all the hydrothermal animal species will die. Fortunately, the magma under this volcano is still warming up fluids and providing food for many species of deep-sea creatures that live in this extreme environment.

  • Hello!
    I'm a ninth grade student at Marymount High School in Manhattan. One question that I have for you is how do you get chosen to be part of the REVEL Project? Is it something that you can apply for, or are you selected randomly? I am very curious to know what the criteria are for being a part of this exciting adventure. Thank you so much.
    Sincerely, Willa
    , Marymount School, New York, NY

  • How do you choose the REVEL teachers?
    Libby Warb
    , Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

    Hi Willa and Libby,
    I am responding to both of your questions since they are very similar. The teachers who get selected for the REVEL Project apply in early January of the year to join the program. It is a national program, so they are in competition with teachers all over the United States. It is also a very intense program that demands a lot of work from your teachers and only very few get accepted every year. Once in the program, teachers need the support of their school districts to be involved in all the activities and requirements of the program, workshops before the research cruise, participating in a research cruise and doing research alongside scientists, workshops after the cruise, and work in the classroom as well as in their local communities. Because, the REVEL experience is unique and teachers participate in cutting-edge research cruises their most important duty is to share their experience, their knowledge and their adventures with as many people as possible for years to come. And your teachers Mrs. Hardgrave and Mrs. Langmuir are good examples. Mrs. Hardgrave sailed with the program in 2004 and Mrs. Langmuir in 2003 and they are still following the program’s cruises, and working with you and your classroom to share these experiences. They brought REVEL to you this week and continue to share their knowledge with you all year round.

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