Pleasant Valley High School (CA) (Microbiology)

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A Selection of Questions from Skype on Tuesday Sept 10 with Dr. Jim Holden of University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University:

1. How do you search for organisms at the ocean floor?
Jim Holden: we collect microbial organisms on the ocean floor primarily at vents. We work on microbes from vents of different temperatures, 55°C and 80°C.

2. What kinds of chemicals are released in the hydrothermal vents?
Jim Holden: I’m interested in the gases H2, CH4, and hydrogen sulfides. There are lots of metals released from the vents as well, including Au, Ni, Zn and Cu. We’re interested in the chemistry of the water from the vents that are related to the volcanic activity and how microbes can live and use those components.
Bill Chadwick- the reason the hydrothermal vents have those metals is because at high pressure, the boiling point of water is very high so the hot water can leach the metals from the rocks. Black smokers get their name from the dark colored, tiny mineral particles that are released from the vents, giving them a dark color.

3. How do you sample the vents, for example one that we see in the image of El Guapo vent (of the International District Hydrothermal Field, shown at right)?
Bill Chadwick: El Guapo is 16 m tall (52 ft) and the vent emits fluid that is nearly at the boiling temperature of water at the pressure of the ocean floor (about 340° at 1500 m depth). The white we see at the top of the vent looks a little bit like a white flame, but is actually tiny bubbles coming from the near-boiling. The bubbles reflect the light coming from the ROV lights. We also added a video to the blog that shows and describes El Guapo vent from its base to the top-check it out!