Terra Satellite sees Iceland volcano’s ash moving into Germany

NASA's Terra satellite flew over the volcano on April 16 10:45 UTC (6:45 a.m. EDT) and the MODIS instrument captured a visible image of Eyjafjallajökull's ash plume (brown cloud) stretching from the UK (left) to Germany (right). -  NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team
NASA’s Terra satellite flew over the volcano on April 16 10:45 UTC (6:45 a.m. EDT) and the MODIS instrument captured a visible image of Eyjafjallajökull’s ash plume (brown cloud) stretching from the UK (left) to Germany (right). – NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

NASA’s Terra satellite has captured another image of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano ash cloud, now moving into Germany. Eyjafjallajökull continues to spew ash into the air and the ash clouds are still impacting air travel in Northern Europe.

NASA’s Terra satellite flew over the volcano on April 16 at 10:45 UTC (6:45 a.m. EDT) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS instrument aboard Terra captured a visible image of Eyjafjallajökull’s ash plume over the England and the Netherlands, stretching into Germany.

Air travel into and out of northern Europe has either been grounded or diverted because volcanic ash particles pose a risk of damage to airplane engines. NASA works with other agencies on using satellite observations to aid in the detection and monitoring of aviation hazards caused by volcanic ash. For more on this NASA program, visit: http://science.larc.nasa.gov/asap/research-ash.html.

The MODIS Rapid Response System was developed to provide daily satellite images of the Earth’s landmasses in near real time. True-color, photo-like imagery and false-color imagery are available within a few hours of being collected, making the system a valuable resource. The MODIS Rapid Response Team that generates the images is located at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. For more information and a real-time MODIS image gallery, visit: http://rapidfire.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/.

Rapid response oceanographic expedition to Chile earthquake site

Scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at the University of California at San Diego are undertaking an expedition to explore the rupture site of the 8.8-magnitude Chilean earthquake.

The quake is one of the largest in recorded history.

The scientists hope to capitalize on a unique scientific opportunity to capture fresh data from the event. They will study changes in the seafloor that resulted from movements along faults and submarine landslides.

The “rapid response” expedition, called the Survey of Earthquake And Rupture Offshore Chile, will take place aboard the research vessel Melville.

The Melville was conducting research off Chile when the earthquake struck.

“This rapid response cruise is a rare opportunity to better understand the processes that affect the generation and size of tsunamis,” said Julie Morris, NSF division director for Ocean Sciences. “Seafloor evidence of the quake will contribute to understanding similar earthquake regions worldwide.”

An important aspect of the rapid response mission involves swath multibeam sonar mapping of the seafloor to produce detailed topographic maps. Data from mapping the earthquake rupture zone will be made public soon after the research cruise ends, Morris said.

The new data will be compared with pre-quake data taken by scientists at Germany’s Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR).

Several years ago IFM-GEOMAR researchers conducted a detailed multibeam mapping survey off Chile. Their data will be valuable for comparisons with the new survey to expose changes from the earthquake rupture, say researchers.

“We’d like to know if the genesis of the resulting tsunami was caused by direct uplift of the seabed along a fault, or by slumping from shaking of sediment-covered slopes,” said Dave Chadwell, an SIO geophysicist and chief scientist of the expedition.

“We will look for disturbances in the seafloor, including changes in reflectivity and possibly shape, by comparing previous data with the new [rapid response] data.”

The rapid response cruise is possible because the vessel Melville is currently in Chilean waters, where a research team has been conducting an investigation of the geology and biology of the Chilean margin.

“This is a unique case in which we have the shipboard assets, the scientific agenda and the funding all in place,” said Bruce Appelgate, associate director for Ship Operations and Marine Technical Support at SIO. “The earthquake was a tragedy for the people of Chile, but we hope this opportunity enables important new discoveries that can help us plan for future events.”

The logistical details of undertaking the expedition are enormous and constantly evolving due to uncertainties regarding transportation infrastructure in Chile.

Port facilities are limited due to widespread earthquake devastation, making fueling and provisioning the ship difficult.

Chadwell and SIO scientist Peter Lonsdale, along with graduate students Jared Kluesner and Ashlee Henig, and Scripps Geological Data Center analyst Aaron Sweeney, will be aboard Melville for the eight-day expedition.

The scientists, along with Scripps researchers Mike Tryon and Mark Zumberge, also will deploy depth sensors on the seafloor to record possible abrupt vertical motions over the next year.

The U.S. scientists will be joined by Chilean researchers Juan Díaz and Matias Viel González from Universidad Católica in Valparaíso, as well as scientists from IFM-GEOMAR.

Stalagmite reveals carbon footprint of early Native Americans

This stalagmite, found in a West Virginia cave, showed a major change in the carbon record at about 100 B.C. -  Courtesy Gregory Springer, Ohio University
This stalagmite, found in a West Virginia cave, showed a major change in the carbon record at about 100 B.C. – Courtesy Gregory Springer, Ohio University

A new study led by Ohio University scientists suggests that early Native Americans left a bigger carbon footprint than previously thought, providing more evidence that humans impacted global climate long before the modern industrial era.

Chemical analysis of a stalagmite found in the mountainous Buckeye Creek basin of West Virginia suggests that native people contributed a significant level of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through land use practices. The early Native Americans burned trees to actively manage the forests to yield the nuts and fruit that were a large part of their diets.

“They had achieved a pretty sophisticated level of living that I don’t think people have fully appreciated,” said Gregory Springer, an associate professor of geological sciences at Ohio University and lead author of the study, which was published a recent issue of the journal The Holocene. “They were very advanced, and they knew how to get the most out of the forests and landscapes they lived in. This was all across North America, not just a few locations.”

Initially, Springer and research collaborators from University of Texas at Arlington and University of Minnesota were studying historic drought cycles in North America using carbon isotopes in stalagmites. To their surprise, the carbon record contained evidence of a major change in the local ecosystem beginning at 100 B.C. This intrigued the team because an archeological excavation in a nearby cave had yielded evidence of a Native American community there 2,000 years ago.

Springer recruited two Ohio University graduate students to examine stream sediments, and with the help of Harold Rowe of University of Texas at Arlington, the team found very high levels of charcoal beginning 2,000 years ago, as well as a carbon isotope history similar to the stalagmite.

This evidence suggests that Native Americans significantly altered the local ecosystem by clearing and burning forests, probably to make fields and enhance the growth of nut trees, Springer said. This picture conflicts with the popular notion that early Native Americans had little impact on North American landscapes. They were better land stewards than the European colonialists who followed, he said, but they apparently cleared more land and burned more forest than previously thought.

“Long before we were burning fossil fuels, we were already pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. It wasn’t at the same level as today, but it sets the stage,” Springer said.

This long-ago land clearing would have impacted global climate, Springer added. Ongoing clearing and burning of the Amazon rainforest, for example, is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Prehistoric burning by Native Americans was less intense, but a non-trivial source of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, he said.

Volcanoes like you’ve never seen them before

The Geological Society of America's new Special Paper 464, 'Stratigraphy and Geology of Volcanic Areas,' edited by Gianluca Groppelli and Lothar Viereck-Goette conveys state-of-the-art methodologies for mapping volcanic areas and highlights recent studies on the stratigraphy, structure, and evolution of both active and extinct volcanic terrains. -  The Geological Society of America
The Geological Society of America’s new Special Paper 464, ‘Stratigraphy and Geology of Volcanic Areas,’ edited by Gianluca Groppelli and Lothar Viereck-Goette conveys state-of-the-art methodologies for mapping volcanic areas and highlights recent studies on the stratigraphy, structure, and evolution of both active and extinct volcanic terrains. – The Geological Society of America

Stratigraphy and Geology of Volcanic Areas conveys state-of-the-art methodologies for mapping volcanic areas and highlights recent studies on the stratigraphy, structure, and evolution of both active and extinct volcanic terrains. The 14 chapters in this new Special Paper from The Geological Society of America, as well as the accompanying CD-ROM, present innovations in geological and hazard mapping of volcanic terrains with the goal of explaining field survey methods and their translation into geological maps.

According to the book’s editors, Gianluca Groppelli (Instituto per la Dinamica dei Processsi Ambientali-Sezione di Milano) and Lothar Viereck-Goette (Institut für Geowissenschaften, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena), “All of the papers [in this volume] confirm the geological map as the basic document for further and more detailed studies,” call the geological map “the warehouse in which to store data on past eruptions and intereruption phenomena with significant implications for volcanic hazard assessment,” as well as other volcanological features.

The volume editors “hope that this book will be used for further discussions and analysis to help establish a common world methodology for mapping volcanic areas.”

Sites visited, mapped on CD-ROM, and detailed in this Special Paper include the Aeolian Archipelago, Italy; Stromboli volcano, Italy; the volcanic island of Ustica, Italy; Vulsini Volcanoes, central Italy; the Central Anatolian volcanic province, Turkey; Tenerife, Canary Islands; Terceira Island, Azores; Campi Flegrei, Bay of Naples, Italy; Procida Island, Italy; Ischia caldera, Italy; Mount Etna, Greece; the Colima volcanic complex, Mexico; and Arequipa, Peru.

New translation reveals ancient metals and minerals

New GSA Special Paper 467, 'Mining and Metallurgy in Ancient Peru,' is a translation of a 1970 publication by Georg Petersen. Translator William E. Brooks notes that many of the ancient Andean mining and metallurgical techniques described in this book precede those known in Europe. -  The Geological Society of America
New GSA Special Paper 467, ‘Mining and Metallurgy in Ancient Peru,’ is a translation of a 1970 publication by Georg Petersen. Translator William E. Brooks notes that many of the ancient Andean mining and metallurgical techniques described in this book precede those known in Europe. – The Geological Society of America

In 2009, Perú was the world’s leading producer of silver, the second leading producer of copper, and the leading producer of gold in Latin America. But this isn’t something new. Perú’s leadership in mining and metallurgy extends for centuries into the past. This Special Paper from The Geological Society of America documents the use in ancient Perú of minerals, metals, and mineral resources for pigments, industrial stone, aesthetics, and art.

The GSA volume is a translation of a 1970 publication by the Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, in Lima, Perú, written by Georg Petersen. Translator William E. Brooks notes that many of the ancient Andean mining and metallurgical techniques described in this book precede those known in Europe.

The volume also provides forward-thinking analytical data on metals, artifacts, and alloys. A detailed pyrite mirror, featured on book’s cover, symbolizes the spectacular workmanship and blending of utilitarian craft and mineral resources in ancient Perú.

Chapters cover minerals, gems, and pigments; ornamental and industrial stone; specific occurrences of gold, silver, copper, iron, mercury, tin, lead, and platinum in Perú, Bolivia, and Colombia; gold, silver, copper, and mercury metallurgy; Inca mining from 1533 to 1534 in the Altiplano, as documented by the Spanish explorers; and even a forensic description of the Chuquicamata Mummy, the remains of an ancient copper miner killed during an earthquake.

Deepest core drilled from Antarctic Peninsula; may contain glacial stage ice

Once sections of the ice core have been retrieved, segmented and packaged in plastic sleeves inside cardboard tubes, they are stored in a snow pit adjacent to the drill dome. Ultimately, they are carried out from the drill site to the British Rothera station where they are stored in freezers awaiting transport back to Ohio State University. Once sections of the ice core have been retrieved, segmented and packaged in plastic sleeves inside cardboard tubes, they are stored in a snow pit adjacent to the drill dome. Ultimately, they are carried out from the drill site to the British Rothera station where they are stored in freezers awaiting transport back to Ohio State University. -  Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Ohio State University
Once sections of the ice core have been retrieved, segmented and packaged in plastic sleeves inside cardboard tubes, they are stored in a snow pit adjacent to the drill dome. Ultimately, they are carried out from the drill site to the British Rothera station where they are stored in freezers awaiting transport back to Ohio State University. Once sections of the ice core have been retrieved, segmented and packaged in plastic sleeves inside cardboard tubes, they are stored in a snow pit adjacent to the drill dome. Ultimately, they are carried out from the drill site to the British Rothera station where they are stored in freezers awaiting transport back to Ohio State University. – Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Ohio State University

Researchers here are hopeful that the new core they drilled through an ice field on the Antarctic Peninsula will contain ice dating back into the last ice age. If so, that record should give new insight into past global climate changes.

The expedition in early winter to the Bruce Plateau, an ice field straddling a narrow ridge on the northernmost tongue of the southernmost continent, yielded a core that was 445.6 meters (1,462 feet) long, the longest yet recovered from that region of Antarctica.

And while remarkably successful, the field work tested the researchers’ resilience more than most of their previous expeditions.

“It was the field season from hell,” explained Ellen Mosley-Thompson, professor of geography at Ohio State University and leader of the project. “Everything that could go wrong did, and almost everything that could break did.”

Bad weather delayed their transport to the remote drill site and snowstorms were a recurrent problem, preventing support flights in to the team. Twice, their drills became stuck deep in the ice, a drill motor broke and all three of the drill gearboxes failed, causing them to cannibalize those devices to construct a new one.

Their ice core drilling effort was part of the much larger Larsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica (LARISSA) project, designed to unravel past climate conditions in this part of the continent and monitor current ocean and atmospheric processes to better understand what likely caused portions of the massive Larsen Ice Shelf to disintegrate in 2002.

This large, interdisciplinary National Science Foundation project involved experts in the oceanography, biology and geology of the region, in addition to the ice core effort. The goal is to build a climate history of the region, hopefully determining if the ice shelf break-up was part of a long-term natural cycle or linked to the recent warming in this part of the world.

After an earlier team of LARISSA researchers had used ground-penetrating radar to map the bedrock under the ice field, and identified a suitable drill site, the six-person team was flown to the Bruce Plateau from the British research station, Rothera, on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Arriving at the location, the team set up sleeping tents, a cook tent and the large geodesic dome that protected the drilling and core processing operations. The team began drilling on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2009.

Two days later, the team had drilled 140 meters (459 feet) when the drill became stuck in the ice. Leaving that drill in the ice, they began drilling a second hole and by January 21, they had retrieved 383 meters (1,256 feet) of core before that drill also became stuck.

They modified a device normally used to bale water from the drill hole to carry ethylene glycol (antifreeze) down to the top of the stuck drill. After several days, the drill broke free and drilling resumed.

“The guys on our team, Victor Zagorodnov and Vladimir Mikhalenko, engineered through each problem that arose and were really very creative,” explained Mosley-Thompson, a researcher with Ohio State’s Byrd Polar Research Center.

On January 28th, the team reached the bedrock at the bottom of the ice sheet. The same day, they recovered the first drill that had become stuck in early January. Both ice cores were cut into roughly 1-meter-long segments that were packaged in plastic sleeves and cardboard tubes and stored in a snow pit adjacent to the drilling dome.

Periodically, as weather allowed, the planes would come pick up the ice-filled tubes, packed in insulated boxes, and return them to freezers at Rothera. Still stored at the Rothera station, the cores will be transferred to the U.S. research ship Nathaniel B. Palmer, shipped to the U.S. West Coast and brought to Columbus by refrigerated truck. The cores are expected to reach Ohio State by mid-summer.

When the ice arrives, researchers here will begin their analyses, measuring oxygen-isotopic ratios – a proxy for temperature, and concentrations of dust and various chemicals – including volcanic tracers, that collectively will reveal past climate conditions.

They’re hoping for answers to some specific questions:

  • Have the climate trends around the Antarctic Peninsula been similar or dissimilar to those experienced by the rest of the continent? Some evidence has suggested conditions have been considerably different;

  • Was the climate on the peninsula warm during the early Holocene period, some 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, as it was elsewhere around the globe?

  • Can evidence trapped in the ice cores shed light on what caused the Larsen Ice Sheet to begin to disintegrate in recent years?

  • Do the cores contain ice formed during the last glacial stage, or “ice age”? If so, it might yield clues to what caused the change from those earlier, much colder climate conditions.

“My gut feeling is that the ice at the Bruce Plateau site might have built up during the latter part of the last glacial stage,” Mosley-Thompson said.

“But to date, only two cores drilled in the Antarctic Peninsula, one in 2007 to 363 meters depth by the British Antarctic Survey, and ours, have the potential to answer that question and neither has been analyzed yet to make that determination.”

Along with Mosley-Thompson, Zagorodnov and Mikhalenko, other members of the team included Roberto Filippi, Thai Verzone and Felix Benjamin Vicencio Maguina.

Geophysics group teams with China on seismic projects

University of Oklahoma researchers are working with Chinese colleagues to better understand intraplate earthquakes-those occurring far from a tectonic plate boundary-in an effort to minimize the loss of life and property in both China and Oklahoma.

China holds the record for the deadliest earthquake with 830,000 casualties, even though the event occurred far from a tectonic plate boundary.

In recent months, a U.S. team of geophysicists led by OU professor Randy Keller of the ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics completed two large seismic projects jointly with Chinese colleagues that will advance the understanding of the cause of devastating intraplate earthquakes. This effort complements that of Keller’s Oklahoma Geological Survey colleagues, whose work focuses on the intraplate region around Oklahoma.

During the first experiment in China, the team deployed 500 seismic recorders along a profile extending from near Beijing to Mongolia. OU is collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences to produce an image of the velocity of the earth down to a depth of about 40 miles. The effort was part of China’s ambitious SinoProbe project-a comprehensive, five-year, eight-component geological and geophysical study of the lithosphere, the outer part of the Earth’s surface.

In January, Keller and colleagues teamed with the Chinese Earthquake Administration and Chinese universities on the second experiment to deploy an array of seismographs in and around the city of Tangshan, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1976. Tangshan sits on a fault, so the goal of this project is to establish new boundaries and determine earthquake hazards based on the new data. The team will use the data gathered to provide an image of the structure of the area to a depth of about 20 miles.

The seismic recorders employed on the project were instruments initially designed by Keller and others as part of a series of research grants. A $2M National Science Foundation grant to the University of Missouri and OU is providing some of the funding for Keller’s team, however, the Chinese government funded most of the experiment costs in China. OU is continuing its collaboration with China by hosting a group of Chinese scientists and graduate students involved in processing, modeling and interpreting data collected during the two experiments.

A different kind of mine disaster

Heaps of ore tailings are exposed directly to the open air at Xikuangshan. -  Chen Zhu
Heaps of ore tailings are exposed directly to the open air at Xikuangshan. – Chen Zhu

The world’s largest antimony mine has become the world’s largest laboratory for studying the environmental consequences of escaped antimony — an element whose environmental and biological properties are still largely a mystery.

“Antimony is an emergent contaminant,” said IU Bloomington Ph.D. student Faye Liu, the paper’s lead author. “People have not paid enough attention to it.”

Used in small quantities, antimony has a wide variety of applications — from hardening the lead in bullets and improving battery performance to combating malaria.

Little is known about antimony’s toxicity, in part because the metalloid element is usually found at low, parts-per-billion concentrations in natural environments. At Xikuangshan, Liu and her colleagues found that aqueous antimony concentrations could be as high 11 parts per million, 1,000 times the antimony levels found in uncontaminated water.

The alarming circumstances at Xikuangshan present an opportunity to understand what happens to antimony, geologically and chemically, when large quantities of it are introduced to the environment. That knowledge will be useful to investigations of antimony contamination near factories and military bases around the world.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and similar regulatory agencies in Europe operate under the assumption that antimony’s properties are similar to those of arsenic, another element in antimony’s chemical group.

“That will need to change,” said IU Bloomington geologist Chen Zhu, Liu’s advisor and the project’s principal investigator. “We saw that antimony behaves very differently from arsenic — antimony oxidizes much more quickly than arsenic when exposed.”

The vast majority of antimony the scientists isolated at Xikuangshan was of the “V” type, an oxidation state in which the metal has given up five electrons. It is believed V is the least toxic of the three oxidation states of which antimony is capable (I, III and V). It is not known whether antimony-V’s relatively diminished toxicity is upended at Xikuangshan by its overwhelming presence.

Land within and around the mining area is used for farming. The drinking water plant for local residents was built in the mining area. Zhu says health problems are common at Xikuangshan, possibly the result of antimony intoxication.

Zhu says he is discussing a possible collaboration with IU School of Medicine toxicologist Jim Klaunig. Researchers would return to Xikuangshan to determine whether the elevated antimony can be tied to acute and chronic health problems among those who live in the vicinity. Another possible study group might be those Chinese who live downstream of Xikuangshan along the Qing River.

As part of their Environmental Geochemistry and Health study, Zhu and scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences conducted field work at Xikuangshan in 2007, drawing multiple water samples from 18 different sample sites. Samples were shipped back to Bloomington for atomic fluorescence spectroscopic analysis and to Alberta for inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy analysis. The scientists learned antimony-III was rare, beyond detection or present at trace levels. The near totality of antimony in each water sample was antimony-V.

The Xikuangshan antimony mine is the world’s largest. Since antimony mining began there more than 200 years ago, mine production has increased steadily to the present day. Today, Xikuangshan produces 60 percent of the world’s antimony.

While Zhu was on sabbatical leave in 2008, Faye Liu was advised by IU Bloomington biogeochemist and inaugural Provost’s Professor Lisa Pratt. Zhu and Pratt recently began a joint project to learn more about the biogeochemistry of antimony. The scientists’ antimony research complements their concurrent NSF-funded research on arsenic.

IU Bloomington geologists Claudia Johnson and Erika Elswick, both participants in the Environmental Geochemistry and Health study, have also taken seawater samples from the Caribbean. Liu is investigating the samples’ antimony content.

British scientific expedition discovers world’s deepest known undersea volcanic vents

First photograph of the world's deepest known 'black smoker' vent, erupting water hot enough to melt lead, 3.1 miles deep on the ocean floor -  NOC
First photograph of the world’s deepest known ‘black smoker’ vent, erupting water hot enough to melt lead, 3.1 miles deep on the ocean floor – NOC

A British scientific expedition has discovered the world’s deepest undersea volcanic vents, known as ‘black smokers’, 3.1 miles (5000 meters) deep in the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean. Using a deep-diving vehicle remotely controlled from the Royal Research Ship James Cook, the scientists found slender spires made of copper and iron ores on the seafloor, erupting water hot enough to melt lead, nearly half a mile deeper than anyone has seen before.

Deep-sea vents are undersea springs where superheated water erupts from the ocean floor. They were first seen in the Pacific three decades ago, but most are found between one and two miles deep. Scientists are fascinated by deep-sea vents because the scalding water that gushes from them nourishes lush colonies of deep-sea creatures, which has forced scientists to rewrite the rules of biology. Studying the life-forms that thrive in such unlikely havens is providing insights into patterns of marine life around the world, the possibility of life on other planets, and even how life on Earth began.

The expedition to the Cayman Trough is being run by Drs Doug Connelly, Jon Copley, Bramley Murton, Kate Stansfield and Professor Paul Tyler, all from Southampton, UK. They used a robot submarine called Autosub6000, developed by engineers at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in Southampton, to survey the seafloor of the Cayman Trough in unprecedented detail. The team then launched another deep-sea vehicle called HyBIS, developed by team member Murton and Berkshire-based engineering company Hydro-Lek Ltd, to film the world’s deepest vents for the first time.

“Seeing the world’s deepest black-smoker vents looming out of the darkness was awe-inspiring,” says Copley, a marine biologist at the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science (SOES) based at the NOC and leader of the overall research programme. “Superheated water was gushing out of their two-storey high mineral spires, more than three miles deep beneath the waves”. He added: “We are proud to show what British underwater technology can achieve in exploring this frontier – the UK subsea technology sector is worth £4 billion per year and employs 40 000 people, which puts it on a par with our space industry.”

The Cayman Trough is the world’s deepest undersea volcanic rift, running across the seafloor of the Caribbean. The pressure three miles deep at the bottom of the Trough – 500 times normal atmospheric pressure – is equivalent to the weight of a large family car pushing down on every square inch of the creatures that live there, and on the undersea vehicles that the scientists used to reveal this extreme environment. The researchers will now compare the marine life in the abyss of the Cayman Trough with that known from other deep-sea vents, to understand the web of life throughout the deep ocean. The team will also study the chemistry of the hot water gushing from the vents, and the geology of the undersea volcanoes where these vents are found, to understand the fundamental geological and geochemical processes that shape our world.

“We hope our discovery will yield new insights into biogeochemically important elements in one of the most extreme naturally occurring environments on our planet,” says geochemist Doug Connelly of the NOC, who is the Principal Scientist of the expedition.

“It was like wandering across the surface of another world,” says geologist Bramley Murton of the NOC, who piloted the HyBIS underwater vehicle around the world’s deepest volcanic vents for the first time. “The rainbow hues of the mineral spires and the fluorescent blues of the microbial mats covering them were like nothing I had ever seen before.”

“Our multidisciplinary approach – which brings together physics, chemistry, geology and biology with state-of-the-art underwater technology – has allowed us to find deep-sea vents more quickly than ever before,” adds oceanographer Kate Stansfield of the NOC.

The team aboard the ship includes students from the UK, Ireland, Germany and Trinidad. “This expedition has been a superb opportunity to train the next generation of marine scientists at the cutting edge of deep-sea research,” says marine biologist Paul Tyler of SOES, who heads the international Census of Marine Life Chemosynthetic Ecosystems (ChEss) programme.

The expedition will continue to explore the depths of the Cayman Trough until 20th April. The team are posting daily updates on their expedition website at http://www.thesearethevoyages.net/, including photos and videos from their research ship. “We look forward to sharing the excitement of exploring the deep ocean with people around the world,” says Copley.

In addition to the scientists from Southampton, the team aboard the ship includes researchers from the University of Durham in the UK, the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the University of Texas in the US, and the University of Bergen in Norway. The expedition members are also working with colleagues ashore at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Duke University in the US to analyze the deep-sea vents.

The expedition is part of a research project funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council to study the world’s deepest undersea volcanoes. The research team will return to the Cayman Trough for a second expedition using the UK’s deep-diving remotely-operated vehicle Isis, once a research ship is scheduled for the next phase of their project.

Natural gas potential assessed in Eastern Mediterranean

This is a map of the Eastern Mediterranean region showing the area included in the USGS Levant Basin Province assessment. -  US Geological Survey
This is a map of the Eastern Mediterranean region showing the area included in the USGS Levant Basin Province assessment. – US Geological Survey

An estimated 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) (mean estimate) of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas are in the Levant Basin Province, located in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Technically recoverable resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices.

This is the first U.S. Geological Survey assessment of this basin to identify potentially extractable resources.

“The Levant Basin Province is comparable to some of the other large provinces around the world and its gas resources are bigger than anything we have assessed in the United States,” said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. “This assessment furthers our understanding of the world’s energy potential, helping inform policy and decision makers in making decisions about future energy supplies.”

Natural gas is used for a variety of purposes, primarily for electricity generation, industrial, residential, and commercial sectors.

Worldwide consumption and production of natural gas was 110 tcf in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration. The three largest consuming countries were the United States with 23 tcf, Russia with 17 tcf, and Iran with 4 tcf of natural gas per year in 2008.

Russia’s West Siberian Basin is another large natural gas province with an estimated 643 tcf. The Middle East and North Africa region also has several large provinces, which include the Rub Al Khali Basin with 426 tcf, the Greater Ghawar Uplift with 227 tcf, and the Zagros Fold Belt with 212 tcf.

Some natural gas accumulations in the United States include the Southwestern Wyoming Province with an estimated 85 tcf, the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Province with 73 tcf, and the Appalachian Basin Province of the eastern United States and the Western Gulf Basin Province of Texas and Louisiana, each with 70 tcf.

All of these estimates are mean estimates of undiscovered, technically recoverable gas resources.

The Levant Basin Province also holds an estimated 1.7 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil. Worldwide consumption of petroleum was about 31 billion barrels in 2008.