Scientists Excited by Arctic Ocean Ridge Finds

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"Most of what we know about mid-ocean ridges is from the mid-latitudes," said Langmuir. Many theories about seafloor spreading can be tested only on a slow-spreading ridge like the Gakkel.

Unexpectedly, the AMORE expedition found an abundance of both volcanism and hydrothermal activity.

"What we found on this expedition changes fundamentally the way we see the flow of the mantle and the generation of magmas beneath ocean ridges," said Dick.

Origins of Life

The researchers tentatively named the field of undersea hydrothermal vents they found the "Aurora." Hydrothermal vents, sometimes called "black smokers" or chimneys, eject plumes of superheated water that look almost like an underwater cloud of smoke. Exotic forms of life have been found at vents in other locations, and some scientists think that life on Earth may have originated in these plumes.

The energy that supports these organisms comes from chemical reactions rather than photosynthesis, as on the surface of the planet.

"The abundance and taxonomic breadth of the animals we found was quite a surprise," said Linda Kuhnz, a biologist from Moss Landing Marine Labs in California who participated in the expedition.

The isolation of the Arctic Ocean has long intrigued biologists. They hope that some of the samples recovered will help answer the question of whether the life forms and ecosystems in the Arctic resemble those from the Atlantic Ocean or Pacific Ocean, or whether they have evolved separately.

"We took samples of mud, water, rocks, and animals—everthing we could think of, and now we're getting ready to go into the lab and see what we've got," said Kuhnz.

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