Saturday, June 23, 2007

Voyaging north in search of life

Almost five kilometers beneath the Arctic ice cap winds a largely unexplored feature of the seafloor: the Gakkel Ridge, over 1,700 km long. We know little about the ridge itself and virtually nothing about the living species that exist on and around it.
A new expedition organized by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is setting out to change that. Equipped with NASA-funded remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) named Puma and Jaguar, the expedition will spend 40 days in July and August scouring scour the ridge for hydrothermal vent communities. NASA is interested because the technology used to plumb the depths of oceans on Earth might someday be used on Europa, Jupiter's ice-covered moon. A trove of new species is expected, and for good reason - everywhere new vents have been discovered, so have new life forms.

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