INSPIRE: Chile Margin 2010

February 24 - March 17, 2009

INSPIRE: INternational Southeast Pacific Investigation of Reducing Environments:

Video Introduction (13 minutes)

For the mission plan and background information as well as a cruise log (in both English and Spanish), visit the NOAA Ocean Explorer.

Jolted by the planet’s biggest earthquakes, sequestering massive reservoirs of methane, while slowly swallowing a mid ocean ridge, the Chilean margin offers an inspiring natural laboratory for investigating the complex interactions between the solid earth, the deep ocean and the biosphere. At the Chilean Triple Junction, where a the South Chile rise, a ridge crest, is being forced under the methane-rich South American continent, ten Scripps and UC Santa Barbara students and an international team of scientists will explore for tectonically controlled hydrothermal vents, for seep sites of massive methane release, and for novel “hybrid” systems that may yield hot seeps or cool vents. With the shared vision of several Census of Marine Life programs, we will probe for strange new biological life forms, communities, and ecosystems dependent on as yet unknown conditions. As the only location on Earth where all known forms of chemosynthetic ecosystem (hydrothermal vents; cold seeps; oxygen minimum zones; whale, kelp and wood-falls) can coexist and be studied together, the Chilean margin is a prime target for remarkable discoveries.

Over roughly three weeks, an autonomous underwater vehicle called ABE, outfitted with cameras and chemical sensors will be used in combination with instrumentation to measure conductivity/temperature/depth (CTD), a video-guided sediment corer and a bottom trawl to locate and characterize heretofore unknown, and some barely known ecosystems. Perhaps these will provide a missing link between hot and cold deep-sea communities.

A diverse team of students from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UC San Diego) and the University of California, Santa Barbara will be tackling broad ranging questions about the geology, microbial processing, unicellular life, multi-cellular animals, their food and dispersal abilities at depths far from the sunlit surface.  They will be working with an international team of scientists and students from Chile and from other US Institutions (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Washington) to blend expertise across geological, chemical and biological disciplines, and to forge international bonds of collaboration.