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.

Rocky Shores

Rocky shores are areas of transition between the marine environment and the terrestrial environment. The littoral zone between the mean high water mark and the mean low water mark is a challenging habitat for both the terrestrial and the marine species. In many coastal areas, rocky shores are formed in areas where the eroding wave is removing material away from the cliff edge (Cremona, 1986). Depending on the composition and the aspect of the rockface, crevices and gullies are formed on the shore. This provides microhabitats such as rock pools, where marine invertebrates from most phyla can live.

The tide results in different parts of the shore being immersed, depending on which point of the tidal curve is being observed. The daily flooding and ebbing of the tide results in a complex and dynamic gradient of environmental conditions, with increase of the vertical height. Zonation is present, where communities are found in bands or zones across the rocky shore. Different organisms are distributed along this gradient depending on their ability to cope with the present abiotic stresses. A major abiotic factor is the period of immersion as this leads to variable temperature, salinity and osmotic conditions- especially challenging for marine organisms! For example, some sub-littoral species of kelp are well adapted to the submerged marine environment and are unable to cope with the desiccation stress in the intertidal zone. Hence, the vertical range of some kelp species does not extend above the sub-littoral.

The species present on the rocky shore are also dependent on the amount of wave action received. In Britain, there is a fixed pattern of zones found at a rocky shore of a particular exposure. The Ballantine Exposure scale grades a particular shore according to the size and location of the species zones present. (See also the “Research” section to read Bill Ballantine’s book on Marine Reserves.) (Figure from Ballantine, 1961)

I spent an amazing summer at Dale Fort field centre (run by the pioneering environmental education charity; the Field Studies Council) where there are rock shores of many different exposures. Black rock is a very sheltered rocky shore in Dale, Pembrokeshire. It has been graded as 6/7 on the Ballantine Exposure scale and found adjacent to the Gann flats (mud flats where there is extensive soft sediment deposition). The area was once renowned for its rocky shores but its diversity has now is affected by regular bait digging. Stay tuned for Part 2 for a survey of Black rock as a sheltered rocky shore and with exciting info about the creatures we find. Meanwhile here are some more maps and photographs of the Dale peninsula and its inhabitants.

Image credits

1) Ballantine, 1961, A biologically-defined exposure scale for the comparative description of rocky shore, Field Studies Journal, FSC Council Publications Vol 1(3) 17.

2) Dale Fort Field Centre

3) Ordnance Survey

4) Ballantine, 1961, A biologically-defined exposure scale for the comparative description of rocky shore, Field Studies Journal, FSC Council Publications Vol 1(3) 17.

5) Ballantine, 1961, A biologically-defined exposure scale for the comparative description of rocky shore, Field Studies Journal, FSC Council Publications Vol 1(3) 17.

6) Dale Fort Field Centre, and Marlin website


Ballantine W., 1961, A biologically-defined exposure scale for the comparative description of rocky shore, Field Studies Journal, FSC Council Publications Vol 1(3) 17.

Cremona, 1988, A Field Atlas of the Seashore

Seamounts of the Azores

Seamounts are common topographic features in the EEZ of the Azores. The archipelago of the Azores is composed of 9 volcanic islands distributed in 3 groups in the north-eastern Atlantic. The size of the Azores EEZ is about 1 000 000 km2, with an average depth of about 3,000 meters. The large occurrence of seamounts is imputable to the volcanic and tectonically active seafloor, typical of this region.

A total of 63 large (height exceeding 1000 meters) and 398 small (height comprised between 200 and 1000 meters) seamounts have been described in the Azorean EEZ, with a density of 3.3 peaks per 1000 km2 and a mean abundance of 0.42 and 0.07 small and large seamounts, respectively, per 1000 km2. Most of the seamounts have deep summits, between 800 to 1500m.

The Azorean seamounts ecosystems are of considerable biological interest and are extremely important also at the economic and, indirectly, social level.

They are hotspots of marine life: shallow seamounts act as aggregating sites for some marine predators.

The fish skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and the Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea borealis) have been recorded to be more abundant close to some shallow water seamount summits (shallower than 400 m depth).

via Seamounts in the Azores.

Welcome to Seabed Habitats

Welcome to Seabed Habitats- The newest blog about everything to do with marine habitats.The marine realm is such a dynamic system and is very much an “unexplored wilderness.” Being a relatively new science (with most sub-disciplines being only 50-120 years old), a lot of work is being done to gain a thorough understanding. With technological advances happening rapidly, there are always new methods to try out and new equipment to test. With research being so interdisciplinary in nature, spanning a range of areas such as marine ecology, marine geology, coastal processes, geophysics, oceanography, hydrography, remote sensing, surveying, GIS.. This blog attempts to keep you up to date on the latest developments in the field. From new research ideas to images to the latest technology- all can be discussed here.