Scientists continue search for life on Caribbean Sea floor

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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MASSACHUSETTS (CMC) — A team of oceanographers and astrobiologists in the United States is continuing their "systematic" exploration of one of the deepest points in the Caribbean Sea, searching for life in extreme seafloor environments.

According to Dr Chris German, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the scientists are using the hybrid underwater robotic vehicle Nereus in extending their investigations throughout the depths of the Mid-Cayman Rise, which reaches to more than 6,500 metres deep.

German said the month-long study area, also known as the Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre, is "one of earth's deepest and slowest-spreading mid-ocean ridges" regions where two of earth's tectonic plates are ripped apart and new material wells up from the earth's interior.

"There, our scientists will be searching for and sampling new hydrothermal vent systems' natural, seafloor plumbing systems, where cold seawater circulates down into the hot, freshly formed oceanic crust releasing heat and mineral-rich fluids at the seafloor that support complex ecosystems of exotic organisms," he said in a statement.

By exploring this "extreme and previously un-investigated section of the earth's deep seafloor," German said the research seeks to "extend our understanding of the limits in terms of extreme environments to which life can exist on earth".

In addition, he said the study is aimed at understanding how geologic processes might generate the pre-biotic materials believed to have been an "essential precursor to life on earth, and to help prepare for future efoorts to explore for life on other planets.

German said Robotic Vehicle Falkor will also support a "broad variety of scientific operations during the two legs of this cruise,' including multi-beam mapping.

"Our scientists and engineers have played a part in many of the discoveries that form the modern understanding of the ocean and how it interacts with other parts of the planet, including human society," he said.

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