OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU Researchers Head to Antarctica to Sample Hot Springs, Underwater Sounds

11/14/2006

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of Oregon State University researchers will leave this week for Antarctica on a pioneering mission to explore the hydrothermal vents inside of Deception Island in Antarctica and recover a network of hydrophones deployed in the area last year.

The project is particularly important because Earth’s poles are the “canaries in the coal mine” for displaying the effects of global climate change, according to Bob Dziak, an OSU oceanographer who works out of the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“A lot of people think that Antarctica is an ice-covered, lifeless rock,” Dziak said, “when in reality it is a tectonically and volcanically dynamic region, filled with surprising and numerous heat sources. The glaciers in Antarctica are known to be receding, likely due to an increase in ocean temperatures. One of our goals is to see what contribution to this large ice breakup might be natural, stemming from volcanic activity.”

Last December, the OSU research team deployed a series of hydrophones in the Bransfield Strait and Drake Passage. These hydrophones, developed at Oregon State, are designed to record the sounds of undersea earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as moving ice sheets and even the vocalizations from large baleen whales.

The researchers can use the vocalizations to monitor the distribution of globally endangered baleen whales – blue and fin whales – in the region.

The Southern Ocean surrounds Antarctica and serves as a conduit between the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans yet much of it has been unexplored – primarily because of the severe, often inhospitable climatic conditions.

This is the first time deep-water hydrophones have been used in the region, and the project will result in the first long-term, micro-seismic survey of Antarctica’s seafloor tectonic and volcanic activity. The researchers also will use a remotely operated vehicle to sample the shallow hot springs inside of Deception Island, said Bill Hanshumaker, an OSU Sea Grant marine educator.

“This could be the first opportunity to observe potential interactions between the chemical-based ecosystem of the hydrothermal vent system, with photosynthetic systems,” he said.

This underwater hydrothermal system is in a submerged caldera on the island.

The researchers will leave Nov. 16 for South America, where they will board a Russian ship and recover the Drake Passage hydrophone array – tentatively on Thanksgiving Day. The following week they will attempt to recover the hydrophones from the Bransfield Strait, before exploring the hydrothermal vents of Deception Island using the ROV.

Hanshumaker will post progress reports, video clips and audio on a website during the cruise at: http://hmscblog.blogspot.com

Following the cruise, photos, video and research results will be posted online at: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/06sounds/welcome.html. A similar website was created last year and has highlights from the 2005 project: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/05sounds/welcome.html

Note to Reporters: Bob Dziak (pronounced ZEE-ack) and Bill Hanshumaker will be available for interviews during the research cruise by satellite phone. Contact Hanshumaker before they leave on Nov. 17 at 541-867-0167, or through his blog at http://hmscblog.blogspot.com while on the research cruise.