Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems
William Wilcock, University of Washington
Seafloor hydrothermal systems were first discovered nearly 30 years ago and since that time have been the focus of extensive scientific studies. They play a major role in the formation of the oceanic lithosphere at mid-ocean ridges, a process responsible for resurfacing two-thirds of our planet. They are responsible for the transport of heat, chemicals, and biomass across the seafloor, which impacts both the ageing of the oceanic crust and the chemistry of the oceans. They support diverse and productive chemosynthetic biological communities both above and below the seafloor and may represent the environment in which life first originated and evolved on earth. Seafloor hydrothermal systems are extremely dynamic and multidisciplinary approaches are required to unravel the complex interaction of a variety of physical, chemical and biological processes. Our scientific knowledge of these systems has advanced rapidly over recent years but is increasingly limited by the expeditionary mode of much oceanographic science and the difficulties associated with sampling the subseafloor crust at unsedimented sites. Several large emerging programs, including the US-Canadian NEPTUNE project to deploy a cabled observatory on the Juan De Fuca Ridge, NSF’s Ocean Observatory Project that will support both the US component of NEPTUNE and buoyed observatories at several locations, the European-led effort to establish a long-term observatory at the MOMAR site on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and the International Ocean Drilling Project, will provide remarkable opportunities to overcome these limitations and will lead to further advances over the coming years.
Lowell, R. P., et al. (1995), Seafloor hydrothermal systems, J. Geophys. Res., 100, 327-352.
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