Hydrothermal activity and deep-ocean biology of the Mid-Cayman Rise

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Ocean and Earth Science

Abstract

We propose to investigate the world's deepest undersea volcanic ridge for the first time to obtain a vital piece in a global jigsaw puzzle of deep-sea life, advancing our understanding of patterns of biodiversity in our planet's largest ecosystem. Our proposal targets the Mid-Cayman Rise (MCR), an undersea volcanic ridge where ocean crust is being created in the Caribbean Sea. In common with all such ridges examined so far, we expect to find hydrothermal vents on the MCR: hot springs that support rich communities of deep-sea life. Investigations of hydrothermal vents over past 30 years have found hundreds of new animal species and shown that vents are more common than originally realised. Understanding how species survive in these unlikely havens has revolutionised ideas about how ecosystems can be supplied with energy and even provided clues to the origins of life. But we have yet to understand what controls the global distribution of species in these island-like extreme environments. East Pacific vents, for example, are home to metre-long tubeworms, but those animals are not known at Mid-Atlantic vents. The MCR presents a unique opportunity to determine the factors responsible for such patterns. The MCR has a deep-water connection with the Atlantic, so its vents may be inhabited by species related to those of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. But before the Isthmus of Panama closed ~3 million years ago, there was also a deep-water connection with the eastern Pacific. The MCR may therefore harbour species related to those of the eastern Pacific, constituting a 'missing link' between the two oceans. Alternatively, the MCR may also host species unlike any found elsewhere, as a consequence of its depth and isolation from other volcanic ridges. Characterising its vent communities should therefore reveal the roles of ocean currents, geological history, depth and isolation in determining global distributions of vent species. As much of what we know about the dispersal of deep-sea species in general comes from studying these systems, this will advance understanding of patterns of deep-sea biodiversity. Because of this potential, the international Census of Marine Life has identified the MCR as a priority for investigation. From analogies with other ridges, we also expect a variety of types of hydrothermal vent on the MCR. These include high-temperature systems associated with an undersea mountain where rocks from the Earth's mantle may be pushed through the overlying crust. We also anticipate cooler alkaline vents on the ridge, created by reactions between seawater and exposed mantle rocks. And vents towards the ~6000 m maximum MCR depth are expected to have record high temperatures and unusual geochemistry, as a result of pressure-driven differences in the reactions in the crust that create them. Such vents have a high potential for new animal species and novel microbes adapted to them. We therefore propose to study the geology and hydrography of the world's deepest seafloor spreading centre, using established techniques to locate all hydrothermal vents along its ~110 km length. This will include using NERC's new Autosub 6000 autonomous underwater vehicle to pinpoint vents on the seafloor. We will then visit those vents with the UK's deep-diving robotic vehicle Isis to sample their geology, geochemistry and biology. Analysing these samples will confirm the geochemical processes driving the vents and reveal the evolutionary and genetic relationships of their inhabitants to vents elsewhere. We will also collect samples for international programmes in marine microbiology and biotechnology and share our discoveries with the wider public through an outreach programme. By using cutting-edge technology to investigate this part of our planet for the first time and answer a key question in deep-sea science, this proposal addresses NERC's goal of delivering world-class environmental research at the frontiers of knowledge

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Discovery of two hydrothermal vent fields on the ultraslow-spreading Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre, including the world's deepest known hydrothermal vents at a depth of 5 km, and a high-temperature off-axis hydrothermal system on an Oceanic Core Complex. Our investigations of the geology of these systems advance understanding the prevalence of hydrothermal systems on slow and ultraslow-spreading mid-ocean ridges worldwide; our investigations of the geochemistry of these systems reveal the wider impact of hydrothermal systems on ocean chemistry; and our investigations of the biology of these systems have revealed several new animal species, advancing our knowledge of the biodiversity of this region and providing new insights into the dispersal and evolution of life in our planet's largest biome.
Exploitation Route Materials for museum displays; live links to school classes; contributions to CPD events for teachers and curriculum development; media outputs including contributions to documentaries and worldwide news coverage of our discoveries and their implications. Our research project incorporates a programme of public engagement, because everyone is a "stakeholder" in the deep ocean through the impact of their everyday lives, and this programme delivers benefits to society of inspiring and informing people about science and the environment. This programme includes work with traditional media to reach large audiences worldwide (e.g. >10 million people via BBC), combined with direct online engagement (>250,000 visitors to our project website to date), and a series of face-to-face engagement activities (talks, public events) that target four key communities: local communities in southern UK where we are based (e.g. through local science festivals); school pupils and teachers (including CPD events for teachers, plus live links to schools from research fieldwork); users of the marine environment (e.g. via presentations at the Southampton Boat Show); and "retirees/lifelong learners" (via networks such as Probus and University of the Third Age). Integrated evaluations of these activities have provided evidence of their significance and impact, and informed the evolution of this programme of engagement with our research.
Sectors Education,Environment,Other

URL http://www.thesearethevoyages.net/jc82/
 
Description By incorporating a programme of public engagement in our research, we have delivered benefits to society and culture in the form of generating inspiration and curiosity about science, raising public awareness of our research insights and their issues (particularly relating to deep ocean resources), and providing cultural enrichment by supporting lifelong learning. We have achieved these impacts by developing a programme of engagement activities, informed by integrated evaluations, that combine "traditional" media outreach to global audiences (e.g. >10 million people via BBC News), a highly successful network of online engagement resources (>250,000 visitors from 90+ countries), and specific face-to-face activities targeting local communities in the southern UK, users of the marine environment, school pupils and teachers, and retirees / lifelong learners (total audiences of >15,000 people to date). This engagement programme covers research undertaken for three related NERC grants: NE/F017774/1, NE/H012087/1 and NE/D01249X/1. We have put public engagement at the heart of what we do, because everyone is a "stakeholder" in the deep ocean via the impact of their everyday lives. Consequently, our goal has been to share the insights gained from our research so that people can make informed choices where their behaviour as consumers or constituents affects the ocean depths. To achieve that goals, there are three strands to our programme of public engagement. Firstly, we have worked with "traditional" media to share our findings with people worldwide, for example by press-releasing the publication of our key papers. This can reach very large audiences: coverage of our work in Feb 2013 by BBC News reached an audience of >10 million (data source: David Shukman, BBC Science Editor). Our work has also featured in documentaries, such as a National Geographic series broadcast in 170 countries. However, while "traditional" media have enabled us to reach huge audiences, we also want people to interact with us directly about our work. So as a second strand, we created an interactive website for our fieldwork, which has received >250,000 visitors from 90+ countries since April 2010. This core website also part of a wider network of social media "portals" for sharing our work, which include Twitter and YouTube (>170,000 channel views to date). To put those figures in context: the government's "Science: So What?" website, funded at a cost of £300k, received ~200,000 visitors in one year. Our third strand is a series of face-to-face talks and events, which specifically target four "communities of place" or "communities of interest": (1) local communities in the southern UK (e.g. via science festivals and cafes scientifiques); (2) school pupils and teachers (including contributing to CPD events for teachers undertaking curriculum development); (3) "users of the marine environment" (e.g. via less traditional venues for science outreach, such as the Southampton Boat Show); and (4) "retirees / lifelong learners" (via networks such as Probus). Total audiences so far for these "face-to-face" engagement activities are more than 15,000 people. Integrated evaluations and feedback recorded from these activities provide evidence of impacts including generating inspiration and curiosity about science, raising public awareness of research insights and their wider context (particularly relating to deep ocean resources), and providing cultural enrichment by supporting lifelong learning.
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description UN IRP invited contribution o deep-sea mineral resources
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact Recommendations for informed basis for policy approach to weighing risks/rewards regarding sea-bed mineral resources.
URL https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8729/-UNEPs_environmental,_social_and_economic...
 
Description Blue Mining: Breakthrough Solutions for the Sustainable Exploration and Extraction of Deep Sea Mineral Resources.
Amount € 2,200,000 (EUR)
Funding ID project, n° 604500. 
Organisation European Union 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 02/2014 
End 01/2018
 
Description Tectonic Ocean Spreading at the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone (TOSCA)
Amount
Organisation Marine Institute 
Sector Public
Country Ireland, Republic of
Start 05/2018 
End 04/2019
 
Title new approach to assessing sea-floor mineral resources 
Description development and implementation of seafloor drilling technology and remote sensing of marine resources. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Increased efficiency and reduced cost of sea-floor mineral resource assessment and exploration. 
 
Description CayMin: Study of water depth and basement influence on composition of hydrothermal mineralisation. 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Direct result: new collaboration resulting in NERC standard grant award focused on mineralisation at the Cayman vents. I led the grant.
Collaborator Contribution Partners contributed by bringing a land-based perspective.
Impact see section for grant: CAymin
Start Year 2012
 
Description FAPESP: MarineE-tech 
Organisation University of Sao Paulo
Department Oceanographic Institute
Country Brazil, Federative Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I am chief scientist of the bi-lateral research programme
Collaborator Contribution FAPESP funded partners matching NERC funding and contributing 2 months of ship time
Impact Cruise in 2016 to NE Atlantic. Numerous conference papers presented. joint studentships. Exchange of technological knowhow and delivery of a teaching lectures.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Tectonic Oceanic Spreading (TOSCA) 
Organisation University College Dublin
Country Ireland, Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have collaborated in conceiving the original concept of the proposal and provided interpretation of the initial data.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have acquired Irish research vessel time and access to their Irish research ROV over a 4 week-long cruise for May-June 2018.
Impact Geology and geophysics.No outcomes as yet
Start Year 2016
 
Description Associated Press newswire 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact News article produced and disseminated by Associated Press, reporting on initial results from Research Cruise 82 of the RRS James Cook as part of this grant. Article was carried widely by international media, e.g. New Zealand Herald, Fox News.

Raised awareness of our research findings, research method, and wider context of our work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description BBC News online coverage of Research Cruise JC82 of RRS James Cook 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Several web items produced by BBC News to cover Research Cruise JC82 of the RRS James Cook as part of this grant. Items included online article reporting research results, a background feature on hydrothermal vents, and further comment blog pieces by BBC Science Editor David Shukman reflecting on the importance of ocean exploration and deep-sea environmental facilities. Images used included specimen photos by research cruise participants Leigh Marsh and Adrian Glover, and video footage from dives by the NERC Isis ROV facility.

Raised awareness of our research findings and their context; stimulated substantial additional coverage / enquiries from further media outlets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description BBC TV news interviews & live broadcasts to >10 million people 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact News packages, including recorded interviews and live links, reporting initial results from Research Cruise JC82 of the RRS James Cook as part of this grant. Packages included deep-sea footage from dives with the NERC Isis ROV facility, and footage recorded by a BBC team at sea aboard the RRS James Cook. Interviewees included grant PI and tied PhD student. Packages were broadcast on BBC One Breakfast and then BBC News Channel and BBC World throughout the day, and with live links from the One O'Clock News, Six O'Clock News, and Ten O'Clock News, on BBC One. Total audience: more than 10 million people, according to BBC Science Editor David Shukman.

Raised awareness of our research findings and their context with a global audience of >10 million; stimulated substantial additional coverage / enquiries from further media outlets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Cayman27 TV news interview, 25 February 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact TV interview recorded with PI via Skype aboard RRS James Cook, discussing Research Cruise JC82 as part of this grant.

Raised awareness of our research and its context for local people in the nearby Cayman islands.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Guest blog post, Guardian Environment online 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Guest blog post by PI in Guardian Environment online, describing initial observations from Research Cruise JC82 of the RRS James Cook as part of this grant.

Raised awareness of research findings and their context, as evidenced by online comments from readers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Interview, Radio 4 Today programme, 21 February 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Recorded interview with PI on BBC Radio 4 Today programme, 21 February 2013, discussing initial results from Research Cruise 82 of the RRS James Cook as part of this grant.

Further media enquires/widespread coverage of our research findings and their context by other media outlets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Live Skype links to school classes during Research Cruise 82 of the RRS James Cook 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Live links to school classes at Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester; Ferndown High School, Dorset; Downside School, Somerset, presenting and discussing the research being undertaken for this grant during RRS James Cook research cruise 82, Feb 2013.

For further information about this schools engagement activity - the first time a live video link from the NERC research ship RRS James Cook has been used for this purpose - please see:



http://www.thomas-hardye.dorset.sch.uk/pages/news/2013/02_13/seabe
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Live interview, Channel 4 News, 22 March 2013 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Live studio interview with PI about ocean exploration and seafloor resources, illustrated by deep-sea footage from dives by the NERC Isis ROV facility during Research Cruise JC82 of the RRS James Cook as part of this grant.

Raised awareness of our research process and its wider context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description NERC Planet Earth Online blog article 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Planet Earth Online blog article about initial results from Research Cruise JC82 of the RRS James Cook as part of this grant. According to NERC at the time, high traffic to this article (resulting from public interest for further information about our work) crashed the NERC webserver on 21 February 2013, following BBC News coverage of our research.

Stimulated interest and curiosity about our science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Nature Live event, Natural History Museum, live via satellite from RRS James Cook research cruise 82 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Live link to public audience in Attenborough Studio of Natural History Museum, via Skype from RRS James Cook during research cruise JC82 as part of this grant, to present and discuss this research project with the public. Event also streamed live over the internet via the Natural History Museum webpages

Further interactions with public in our "live" online engagement from our research expedition.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Presentations to public groups 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have given talks about our research to public groups than form three "communities of place" or "communities of interest": (1) local community groups in the southern UK (e.g. via science festivals, cafes scientifiques, and science interest groups); (2) "users of the marine environment" (e.g. via presentations at less traditional venues for science outreach, such as Southampton Boat Show, in addition to talks such as London Dive Chamber Lecture Series); (3) "retirees / lifelong learners" (via networks such as Probus and University of the Third Age). In addition, we have engaged with school classes and teachers, which are presented as a separate output. Total audiences for these face-to-face engagement activities, since announcement of funding for this project in Aug 2008, are more than 15,000 people. These engagement activities have presented research combined from three related NERC grants: NE/F017774/, NE/H012087/1, and NE/D01249X/1.

*Examples* of talks to public groups (space precludes full listings):



Retirees/lifelong learners:

Probus groups: Mar 2013, Apr 2012, May 2011

University of the Third Age: Apr 2011, Jun 2009

Open University: Aug 2010, 2009, 2008



Local community gr
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
 
Description Talk at Bluedot Festival, Jul 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk about recent NERC deep-sea vent projects (x3) at Bluedot music/science festival, Joddrell Bank, July 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/jul/10/bluedot-festival-frontier-jodrell-bank-jean-michel-j...
 
Description Talk to UK U3A at Royal Institution, Oct 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to UK University of the Third Age audience at Royal Institution, London, October 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.rigb.org/whats-on/events-2016/october/public-u3a-at-the-ri-language-and-oceans
 
Description Use of seafloor footage in BBC Four documentary 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The BBC Four documentary series "From Ice to Fire: The Incredible Science of Temperature" used footage of hydrothermal vents from these grants (Cayman and Southern Ocean), along with on-screen discussion of the Cayman hydrothermal vents by the PI.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09rzq05
 
Description Visits to/from schools 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Since the announcement of funding for this project in August 2008, we have delivered 18 talks about our research to school groups across the southern UK, in addition to the live links from our research ship presented elsewhere as a separate output. In several cases, school classes visited the National Oceanography Centre to undertake a "Discover Oceanography" day of fieldwork, culminating with a talk about our research at deep-sea vents. We have also visited schools to give talks, and contributed to two CPD events for teachers organised by The Prince's Teaching Institute, where we discussed our research with biology teachers, to identify new examples for teachers to use to illustrate the curriculum. We also presented our research to international school pupils as part of the London International Youth Science Forum in Aug 2012.

School talks:

Downside School, Oct 2012

Wellington School, Oct 2012

Thomas Hardye School, Oct 2012, May 2012, Sep 2010, May 2010, Jun 2009

London International Youth Science Forum, Aug 2012

The Prince's Teaching Institute, Mar 2012, Mar 2011

Lychet
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008