Deep network

Real-time monitoring of the seafloor reveals unexpected links

3:00pm, October 4, 2013

NODES OF NEPTUNE  Connected by more than 800 kilometers of fiber optic cable, NEPTUNE’s research stations probe diverse underwater worlds extending from the shallows of the continental shelf into the depths of the abyss: 1. Middle Valley- 2,400 m, Planned studies of tectonic shifts, whale song and vents; 2. Clayoquot Slope - 1,250 m, Methane fizzes from mud on continental slope; 3. Folger Passage- 23 m to 100 m, Shallowest node sits on a rocky reef; 4. Barkley Canyon - 860 m, Wally the robot roams methane mounds in sub­marine canyon; 5. Cascadia Basin - 2,660 m, Sensors measure the weight of passing tsunamis on abyssal plain; 6. Endeavour - 2,300 m, Studies of new ocean crust and hydrothermal vents.

Gas bubbles effervesce from a mound of muck on the seafloor in a deep submarine canyon off the west coast of Canada. Microbes beneath the sediment belch the bubbles after feasting on the ancient remains of algae, sea critters and their poop: a primordial stew that’s been simmering since long before humans walked the Earth.

This gassy oasis attracts an odd collection of critters. Worms writhe in the goo, clams bask in the bacteria, herds of sea cucumbers dine on diatoms and sea stars scurry across the pitch black landscape. But the strangest inhabitant of all is a robot named Wally, whose every move is controlled by a human sea spy viewing the entire scene from a lab 8,000 kilometers away in Bremen, Germany.

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join SSP today or Log in.

More from this issue of Science News