Benthic Community Development

Project Statement

Environmental Controls of Benthic Community Development on Ridge Flanks


The well-earned fascination with marine hydrothermal venting is largely due to the spectacular massive sulfide formations spewing 400°C fluids precipitating black “smoke” into the over-lying water column. However, the other end of the story—the slower exchange between the seafloor and water-column along the permeable flanks of the hydrothermal rift valley system—is much less studied and understood.

During the cable-laying process of the NEPTUNE observatory at the Endeavor hydrothermal rift valley, a significant number of ROV passes across the eastern flank were undertaken for route survey and the eventual laying of three cables to three locations along the rift valley. These were, in general, low-flying visual surveys and all the video was recorded in high definition and state-of-the-art navigation. During these surveys we often came across “oases” of benthic communities (e.g., corals, sponges, crabs). Since the ROV also carried a CTD we could observe a direct correlation between positive temperature anomalies and the flourishing of these benthic assemblages. Although the temperature anomalies were small, of the order 0.1 of a degree, they are not insignificant if compared to the stable background (from non-vent) temperature variability at these ocean depths.

Skills Required

  • Able to use large data sets
  • Create and understand temperature, salinity, and oxygen graphs and anomalies
  • Be able to manipulate data to compensate for both depth in the water column and altitude above seafloor
  • Background in physics, mathematics, engineering, and/or oceanography
  • Knowledge of deep-sea species and substrate identification
  • Interest or passion in some combination of marine biology, benthic ecology, marine geophysics, geology, boundary layer dynamics, and/or seafloor fluxes.


Grade Level