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Learn more about these OCEAN and COASTAL RESEARCH areas...


Ocean Exploration and Undersea Research

Hydrothermal Vents

For over 20 years, the PMEL Vents Program has investigated the effects on the oceans of deep-sea volcanoes and hydrothermal systems. The approach of the Vents Program has combined exploration, long-term time series observations, remote monitoring, and innovative oceanographic instrumentation with an aim of providing timely information to the scientific community and the general public via peer-reviewed scientific publications and internet-accessible data and educational products.

Over 70% of the earth's volcanic activity takes place beneath the sea surface, where it has an impact on deep ocean mixing, the global chemical and heat balance, and what may be the most ancient biological communities on the planet. PMEL/Vents is recognized for conducting unique research on submarine hydrothermal systems that address these key issues. By gaining access to data from the Navy's "SOSUS" acoustic monitoring system and developing additional hydrophone systems at PMEL, Vents has been locating earthquakes and using natural ambient ocean sound to study whales and alert scientists about ongoing volcanic eruptions on the seafloor. This acoustic monitoring led to the first remote detection and response to a seafloor volcanic eruption in 1993 on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the NE Pacific. Since that time, PMEL has detected several more volcanic eruptions on the Juan de Fuca and joined academic researchers from the university community in rapid response efforts to identify the immediate effects of volcanic activity.

PMEL/Vents Program
The Vents Program has developed and deployed innovative instruments to monitor and quantify volcanic and hydrothermal processes. A large effort has been focused on the New Millennium Observatory (NeMO) at Axial Volcano on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, where a suite of instruments has been monitoring volcanic and hydrothermal activity nearly continuously for over six years. One of the goals of NeMO is to understand the extent of the sub-seafloor biosphere and to link the geologic, chemical, and biological processes that have allowed life to thrive in and around submarine volcanoes for billions of years. Recent studies using a unique sampling tool (the Hydrothermal Fluid and Particle Sampler) have shown how microbial communities respond to changing conditions following a volcanic eruption. NeMO includes many temperature sensors in hot springs, deep-ocean moorings with physical sensors, continuous geodetic measurements, inter-annual sampling and survey missions, an exciting education and outreach component, and a unique, real-time, two-way communication system (NeMO-Net). NeMO-Net provided images of hydrothermal vents in the first two years, and now has geodetic and chemical sampling capability. A bottom pressure recorder monitors volcanic inflation/deflation associated with magmatic activity, and the interactive sampler monitors vent temperature and pH and collects samples on a weekly schedule or on command. Using underwater acoustic and satellite data transmission, NeMO-Net is the first deep-ocean observatory with the capability to respond from shore to a volcanic or hydrothermal event. This pioneering technology to connect deep-sea observatories in remote locations to shore-based laboratories will be a major part of the global scale Ocean Observatories Initiative.

The Vents Program has become increasingly global in scope to reflect the nature of seafloor volcanism and to explore the full range of processes that occur in the wide range of volcanic environments beneath the sea surface. Autonomous acoustic monitoring now covers significant parts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Vents Program scientists have led expeditions to explore venting on the remote, super-fast-spreading East Pacific Rise from 11 to 32°S, on the Explorer ridge in the NE Pacific, and on the Mariana volcanic arc in the western Pacific. With a coordinated team of geophysicists, geologists, oceanographers, chemists, and collaborating biologists and microbiologists, the Vents Program is poised to make new discoveries about the tectonic and volcanic processes that shape our planet.

Other Hydrothermal Vent Research Supported Within NOAA
Although the majority of research conducted on hydrothermal vent systems within NOAA occurs through the PMEL/Vents Program, NOAA also supports a variety of research endeavors on hydrothermal vents through NOAA's Ocean Explorer Program and the NOAA Undersea Research Program. For example, NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration (OE) has supported several research cruises to explore the Pacific Ring of Fire (which is part of the Mid-Ocean Ridge System) for undocumented hydrothermal vent activity. OE also worked collaboratively with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a coordinated team of scientists in 2002 for a return to the Galapagos Rift to reexamine vents first discovered in 1977. NOAA's National Undersea Research Program has also supported many endeavors to examine specific aspects of hydrothermal vent systems in the Atlantic as well as the Pacific Oceans.


hydrothermal Fluid and Particle Sampler mounted on the ROV ROPOS

Hydrothermal Fluid and Particle Sampler mounted on the ROV ROPOS. The sampler can collect particles on filters for chemical and microbiological analysis, collect water samples, including gas-tight samples in the titanium cylinders spread across the top of the sampler.


Smoke pours from a submarine volcano at the Juan de Fuca Rifge

An image of a black smoker at the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The Vents Program conducts research on the impacts and consequences of submarine volcanoes and hydrothermal venting on the global ocean


tibeworms cover a zooarium

These spectacular tubeworms discovered at Explorer Ridge cover Zooarium, a lower-temperature sulfide chimney, which was given its name because of all of the lush vent biota which inhabits it.


water spews from a vent chimney

Shimmering water spews forth from the newly discovered "Cleopatra's Needle." Notice the majestic spires of surrounding vent chimneys in the background at the Mystic vent field within the Magic Mountain hydrothermal area.

NOAA Research programs that study Hydrothermal Vents:

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
NOAA’s Undersea Research Program
NOAA’s Ocean Explorer Program



Additional Related Information:

PMEL Vents Program
New Millennium Observatory
Acoustic Monitoring
NeMO Net Remote Access Sampler
NeMO Net Bottom Pressure Recorder
Moored Autonomous Hydrophones
Explorer Ridge mapping mission
Galapagos Rift Expedition



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