10 January 2017

Deeper than the Titanic, Hotter Than Molten Lead: exploring hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor

Organised by:

SCI's London Group in partnership with UCL's Chemical & Physical Society

UCL, London, UK

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At deep-sea hydrothermal vents, hot fluids typically containing high concentrations of reduced compounds and dissolved metals emit from the sea-floor, building mineral deposits of commercial interest and supporting locally abundant populations of animals through the chemosynthetic fixation of inorganic carbon by prokaryotic microbes. Hydrothermal vents occur as 'vent fields,' each typically <10 km2 in extent and separated from each other by tens to hundreds of kilometres along sea-floor spreading centres such as mid-ocean ridges. Since the first direct observation of hydrothermal vents 40 years ago, more than 250 active vent fields have been studied in situ at the sea-floor, and more than 400 new animal species have been described from vent environments. The water-rock interactions that create hydrothermal fluids regulate the chemistry of seawater, and models of heat loss from ocean crust indicate that thousands of vent fields remain undiscovered worldwide.

Four decades of scientific exploration have shown hydrothermal vents to be more diverse in fluid chemistry, and more widespread in geological setting, than originally realised. In this talk we will tour the diversity of hydrothermal vents now recognised on the sea-floor, visiting vent fields discovered by recent UK expeditions: from the world's deepest at 5000 metres where fluid temperatures exceed 400°C, to new types of vents with contrasting fluid chemistry in places where few would have expected to find them. We will examine the consequences of variation in fluid chemistry for the animal species that thrive at different vents, and see how microbial partners and a 'holobiont' perspective of organisms are key to understanding ecological processes in these environments.

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Venue and Contact


Department of Chemistry
University College London
20 Gordon Street
London, WC1H 0AJ


Emma Thomas

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7598 1594

Email: communications@soci.org


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Additional Info


Dr Jon Copley, University of Southampton