ROVs are unmanned vessels that give scientists the opportunity to study and collect organisms from greater depths than manned submersibles, without the risk to human life, and at less expense and effort. ROVs are becoming the primary tool for studying the biodiversity of the deepest oceanic ecosystems and are a key technology in deep sea research. They are linked to a surface support research vessel that controls their underwater activity and transports them to and from the research site. This BBC report gives a profile of ISIS, UK’s deep diving ROV, which has recently made a discovery of some hot vents.

Strange world of hydrothermal vents

A hydrothermal vent is a fissure in a planet’s surface from which geothermally heated water issues. Hydrothermal vents are commonly found near volcanically active places, areas where tectonic plates are moving apart, ocean basins, and hotspots. Hydrothermal vents exist because the earth is both geologically active and has large amounts of water on its surface and within its crust. Common land types include hot springs, fumaroles and geysers. Under the sea, hydrothermal vents may form features called black smokers. Relative to the majority of the deep sea, the areas around submarine hydrothermal vents are biologically more productive, often hosting complex communities fueled by the chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids. Chemosynthetic archaea form the base of the food chain, supporting diverse organisms, including giant tube worms, clams, limpets and shrimp.

The Endeavour Mid-ocean Ridge is an exciting study location because it is a place where new volcanic seafloor is constantly created at the spreading boundary between the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plates. The region (approximately 300 km off the British Columbia coast), has been the site of intensive investigation for more than 20 years.The Ocean Networks Canada Observatory, comprising VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada cabled networks, supports transformative coastal to deep ocean research and technology. It enables real-time interactive experiments, focused on ocean health, ecosystems, resources, natural hazards, and marine conservation. The Observatory is a national facility led by the University of Victoria for a pan-Canadian consortium of universities and partners.

NEPTUNE Canada’s real-time monitoring capability will benefit both ongoing and new experiments. Continuous data gathered before, during and after events like earthquakes and intrusions will be recorded across a coordinated suite of instruments both at the hydrothermal vents on the seafloor and within moorings extending 250m up into the 2,200m water column. A network of seismometers here and at other sites will provide high resolution information on tectonic processes such as earthquakes and strain across the Juan de Fuca plate.

via NEPTUNE Canada: Endeavour and Wikipedia.

Some more footage of the Endeavour ridge hot vents acquired using the ROPOS ROV. See also the BBC news report about a recent British expedition to the Cayman Trough to the deepest undersea vents.