Scientific party of cruise MV1205, led by Dr. Donna Blackman of SIO, aboard R/V Melville while transiting the Strait of Magellan enroute from Punta Arenas, Chile to their work area in the southern Pacific ocean.

Students and researchers embark on UC Ship Funds Program voyage of discovery

R/V Melville underway from Punta Arenas with scientific team led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography to study the geology and biology of seafloor vents at the Chile Triple Junction

From Chief Scientist Dr. Donna Blackman:

During our 10-day cruise aboard the R/V Melville, we will probe for strange new biological life forms, communities, and ecosystems dependent on as-yet-unknown conditions at fluid vent sites located at the Chile Triple Junction. Our scientific team will use an autonomous underwater vehicle (outfitted with cameras and chemical sensors) called Sentry - in combination with instrumentation to measure conductivity, temperature, depth (CTD), a multicorer, and a towed camera system - to locate and characterize heretofore unknown and some barely known ecosystems. This mission, which we call the INSPIRE: Chile Margin 2012 expedition is a follow-up to an eventful 2010 research mission that was also made possible by the UC Ship Funds Program.

The Chile Triple Junction is a globally unique area where there is a confluence of both geological and biological aspects of processes that control bio-geochemical exchange. An oceanic spreading center subducts beneath the Chilean margin at the triple junction; slope sediments deform and produce methane and some are deposited in the axial zone of the southernmost part of the spreading center (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Bathymetry of spreading segments and slope near Chile Triple Junction. INSPIRE- Chile 2010 tracklines (black, red:Tow-Yo) and sample locations (legend, upper right) are shown..
The proximity of magmatically-driven hydrothermal venting and methane seeps on the adjacent slope provides a natural laboratory in which to examine relationships between and interconnectivity of these two types of deep-sea reducing ecosystems and determine whether ‘hybrid’ communities can also occur. The CTJ is at the confluence of the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern oceans, and so is ideal for investigating evidence for global-scale larval dispersal, potential for cross-basin population connectivity of vent species, and documenting similarities and differences of deep-sea fauna between the basins (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Prioritization for ocean ridge biogeography research endorsed by InterRidge.
This multi-disciplinary study provides an exemplary context within which to advance student training, both scientific and sea-going. The mapping/imaging can provide information to extend thesis projects that were started during a previous UC Ship Fund Program cruise, INSPIRE- Chile 2010, led by SIO graduate student Andrew Thurber (Levin Lab, now postdoc at OSU), Alexis Pasulka (Landry Lab), and Ben Grupe (Levin Lab). On this cruise, SIO students (including a Chilean student working with SIO biologist Greg Rouse) continue to experience and lead sea-going research, data analysis and advanced research.

Follow the INSPIRE: Chile Margin 2012 expedition blog on NOAA's Ocean Explorer page here