ocean explorer/Explorationshome/index
about site linkeducation linkprojects linkhistory linktechnology linkgallery linklibrary linkexploration linknavigation bar
explorations pageocean explorer home pagenoaa home page

Explorations | New Zealand American Submarine Ring of Fire 2005 | Logs

spacer spacer

Ask an Explorer

Questions were sent to the science party during this expedition. Selected questions and answers are offered below.

Question from: K. Gille, student from Ashwaubenon High School, Green Bay, WI

What are you looking to use the information that you collect for? What do these volcanoes do to support these unique biological communities?

Answer by: Susan Merle, Senior Research Assistant, NOAA Vents Program, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

Hello K. Gille from Green Bay Wisconsin.

First things first, I was born and raised in Wisconsin and am a huge Green Bay Packers fan. That aside, let's get down to your questions....

"What are you looking to use the information that you collect for?"
Earth is over 70% ocean so we feel that is extremely important to learn all we can about the worlds oceans. That's a huge field of study, with many specialties, and ours if hydrothermal venting on underwater volcanoes and spreading centers. The NOAA Vents Program is an interdisciplinary research effort discovering and quantifying the effects of submarine volcanic and hydrothermal activity on the ocean. NOAA Vents researchers work with colleagues from other government agencies and many universities, both in the US and abroad, creating a team that has expertise in chemical, physical, geological, and biological oceanography. Hydrothermal activity affects all aspects of the ocean's environment -- physical, chemical, and biological. Hydrothermal fluids inject heat and chemicals into the ocean that affect ocean nutrients and current circulation.

"What do these volcanoes do to support these unique biological communities?"
Materials carried in hot hydrothermal plumes form massive deposits of iron, copper, and zinc which are sometimes mixed with precious metals. Animal communities that live exclusively near the vents have unique chemosynthetic-based ecosystems that are the subject of intense research. Recently, huge communities of heat-loving microbes have been discovered living beneath the seafloor along spreading centers. Some of these microbes live at temperatures near 100 degrees C (212 degrees F). Known as thermophiles and hyperthermophiles, these heat-loving microbes and their metabolic products have great potential for use in biotechnical and medical applications.

Susan Merle
Sr. Research Assistant, NOAA Vents Program

Question from: Roger Peters, Tauranga New Zealand

What type of volcanics are these (the Kermadec Arc) likely to be - rhyolitic/andersitic ? if rhyolitic - would be great tsunami generators?

Answer by: Ian Wright, Principal Scientist with National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Hi Peter,

Thanks for the question. In recent years we have discovered that there is a range of volcano types and compositions along the Kermadec arc. These include the discovery of silicic calderas like Monowai, Macauley, Brothers and Healy volcanoes that are dacite in composition, bordering on rhyolite. The eruption of silicic magma associated with caldera formation, undoubtedly create some form of tsunami. We know that for instance that similar volcanoes south of Japan that erupted in the 1950’s produced quite small tsunami. On the other hand, the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia created a hugh tsunami. Did these Kermadec calderas produce significant tsunami that effected New Zealand or Tonga? We don’t really know, but the effect of the tsunami will be determined by essentially the size and timing of the caldera collapse and distance from the coastline. In the case of the Kermadec volcanoes the largest calderas are the furthest from New Zealand so the size of the tsunami decreases as it approaches the coastline.

Ian Wright

Question from: Linda Badzioch

I am looking at your site 05 fire and wonder if the scientists are aware of the gas vent in about 20 feet of water in Dominica?

Answer by: Susan Merle, Senior Research Assistant, NOAA Vents Program, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory


Thanks for bringing the vent offshore Dominica to our attention. We are the NOAA Vents Program, but are not aware of ALL the hydrothermal venting in the world. That's why we go on research expeditions - to increase our knowledge of hydrothermal venting worldwide. We're located in the Pacific Northwest, and nearly all the hydrothermal vent research that we have participated in has been in the Pacific Ocean. There are other groups that study the Atlantic and Caribbean, including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, and Harbor Branch in Florida.

It's not surprising that there is hydrothermal venting offshore Dominica. There are many "hot springs" on the island itself. The Lesser Antilles is an area where the North American and Caribbean plates converge, and where plates collide hydrothermal venting often occurs.

Thanks for your question and the education. We're always learning.

Susan Merle

Sign up for the Ocean Explorer E-mail Update List.