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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

Methane Monsters

 
     

Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

Peeking into the pit of a bizarre world filled with unusual creatures, scientists from UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and elsewhere completed a unique deep-sea voyage off New Zealand’s east coast, late last year.

The 21-member expedition, which included Lisa Levin of Scripps, discovered animal communities living in “cold seeps” in the southwest Pacific Ocean. These are areas where methane gas or hydrogen sulphide escapes from stores deep beneath the seafloor’s sediments.

The team pinpointed the site using sophisticated sonar to map the seafloor and detect plumes of methane-enriched water. The researchers then used a towed video and still camera system to document the creatures in detail.

“The newly discovered sites provide a window into the biogeography of South Pacific chemosynthetic ecosystems,” says Levin.

That video window reveals strange varieties of corals, clams and mussels along with 30- to 40-centimeter-long tube worms emerging from beneath limestone boulders and slabs—all of them relying on symbiotic bacteria for their nutrition.

Now that’s a reality show worth tuning in to.

Contributors to Making Waves: Mario Aguilera, '89, Rex Graham, Raymond Hardie, Debra Kain, Daniel B. Kane, Kim McDonald

RELATED LINKS

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD
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Lisa Levin's Lab
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UCSD Press Release
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"The newly discovered sites provide a window into the biogeography of South Pacific chemosynthetic ecosystems."