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Questions and Responses
Posted July 8, 1998 | previous set | next set


This is a question to the NOVA Online 'Into the Abyss' scientists: What are the physical conditions ROPOS has to operate in? Particularly I am interested in the viscosity of seawater at great depth.

Norbert Lanners
Covington, Louisiana


Water gets a little denser as it gets closer to freezing, but that change in density is not appreciably different. As far as ROPOS is concerned, there is no significant difference between operating it at 7,000 feet or at the surface.


Is there any danger from lightning, considering all the water and metal? Also, I'm stuck flat with a spinal cord injury, and these sites take me back into the world, under the ocean, and out into space—thanks for your work! Will the "smokers" you remove be on display anywhere for public viewing?

Lee Lightning


The ship is grounded to the ocean, so people are not threatened by lightning striking the ship (which Captain Drewry says he has seen, incidentally). Electronics are another thing, however. Drewry says radios and other electronic equipment have gone dead momentarily after a lightning strike. As for the other part of your question, at least one of any sulfide chimneys recovered will be put on display at the American Museum of Natural History (see Birth of an Expedition).


Thanks for this ultimate adventure. I don't have a background in oceanography, but I worry that the Juan de Fuca Ridge is a geologic time bomb. I live in Portland, Oregon, and I'd like to know what sort of threat the tectonic plates might have.

I've also heard that the vents harbor a live form that only exists in a super-heated state and that some people want to collect these life forms when the plumes are active since they only survive in this super-heated atmosphere. Can that be true?

Anxious to follow your

May the expedition be a big success. I can't wait!

Best regards,

Sam Churchill
Portland, Oregon


Juan de Fuca is a spreading center where tectonic plates spread apart. It therefore does not pose a threat such as that found at subduction zones, such as the San Andreas fault, where one tectonic plate is diving under another. Though undersea volcanoes do erupt occasionally on the Juan de Fuca, the ridge lies 200 miles out to sea and poses no danger. As for your question about super-heated conditions, the highest temperature so far recorded in which microbes can survive is 230° F.


Your "Life in the Abyss" project is very interesting. Will you be doing work in the Caribbean, in particular around 'Kick 'm Jenny' at the edge of the Caribbean Sea near the Grenadines? Do the volcanos in the Pacific Ocean contribute to the warming of the waters near the Pacific coast of Central and South America? Do you have video tape material on the "Abyss Project"?

Rudy Dovale
St.Maarten, Caribbean


Scientists don't know if volcanoes in the Pacific contribute to warming waters along the Pacific coast. There is definitely heat transfer between the mantle and ocean water at vent sites, but how much that heats water above is unknown. The sun probably has a lot more to do with warming ocean water than hydrothermal vents do. We are videotaping all ROPOS operations in Beta and S-VHS formats. We are not familiar with 'Kick 'm Jenny.'


Are the vent life species subject to diseases? And if they are, are the diseases the same as seen before in marine life? Or are they mutations or altogether new diseases?

What a exciting adventure, I'm looking forward to your dispatches. Good luck to all of you.

Karen Allen
Lansing, IL


We don't even know the definition of a healthy hydrothermal vent animal yet. To guess at possible diseases would be premature. All animals are exposed to disease of some sort or another, so these probably are too. Since it's a new environment, with new animals, there very well may be new kinds of diseases.


Fascinating expedition—sounds like a great time. I followed a link from MSNBC...Anyway, about bringing those chimneys to the surface: Won't there be a problem with decompression as far as the chimney fauna is concerned? How do you plan to avoid that? Just curious. Good luck! I hope this expedition leads you to further questions, answers, and discoveries.

Sarah Steever
Kent, WA


In a perfect world, we would have a pressurized aquarium to put the animals in, but we don't. It would have to be made of titanium to deal with the pressure, but that would be enormously expensive. Only a few scientists have access to such specialized equipment. So unfortunately all the vent animals that we bring up perish eventually.

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