Vents and Volcanoes

Most of the active volcanoes on Earth are located underwater, along the aptly named Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean. Volcanoes and hydrothermal vents are the result of plate tectonics.

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Content essays

Content essays are written by explorers involved in a specific expedition in order to provide further background on specific topic areas associated with the expedition. Below are selected essays focused on vents and volcanoes.

Actively venting hydrothermal vent chimney

Explorations in the Mariana Back-arc

Dives 9, 10, and 11 of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition were all made on the Mariana back-arc, a deep rift valley where seafloor spreading is occurring and volcanic eruptions provide the heat to create hydrothermal vents and their unique biological communities. The science team explored brand new underwater lava flows and searched for and found active hydrothermal vents, including a 30-meter-high active venting chimney!

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Pillow lavas

2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas: Leg 1 Mission Summary

Explorers discover a new hydrothermal vent fields and new lava flows.

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The armored searobin, Scalicus engyceros

Volcano Fish

The fishes that we see on all but the shallowest Okeanos Explorer dives live in the habitats created by extinct volcanic lava flows – they are volcano fish. Some live near active volcanoes as well as on extinct features.

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Champagne vent, NW Eifuku seamount in the Marianas region.

Hydrothermal Vents

While the Mariana Trench is amazingly cool, there are other equally awesome habitats within the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, such as hydrothermal vents.

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NW Rota 2010 landslide exposed new surfaces coated with sulphur where newly recruited shrimp and limpets congregate.

Macrobiology

In few other places on Earth is animal nutrition as inextricably linked to microbes as they are at hydrothermal vents. Microbes have the ability to capture the chemical energy potential in hydrothermal vent fluids, thus growing without the need for sunlight. Vent fauna have evolved to take advantage of this abundant food source.

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Syringe sampler used by ROV manipulators to collect microbial mat samples.

Searching for New Pharmaceutical Drugs from Hydrothermal Vent Animals and Microbes

Organisms at hydrothermal vents with unique forms of primary and secondary metabolism represent an untapped potential source of new types of natural products with new biological mechanisms of action.

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An area on the summit of the West Mata Volcano erupting in 2009.

Submarine Volcanoes of the NE Lau

This essay discusses the major forms of volcanism that occur along the Submarine Ring of Fire in the northeast Lau Basin.

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Submarine eruptions at mid-ocean ridges produce fresh lava flows like these

Submarine Arc Volcanism

Volcanic arcs can be on land or underwater, or can be a combination of islands and submarine volcanoes, like the Mariana Arc. The "Ring of Fire" is a circular arc of active volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean basin, mostly above subduction zones.

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Photomicrographs of a subseafloor thermophile (a life form that thrives in heat) isolated from deep-sea hydrothermal vent fluids.

Microbiology

Microbes have the ability to capture energy from a huge range of chemical processes, and many of the microbes at deep-sea hydrothermal vents do not need sunlight or oxygen to survive.

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Geoff LeBon (left) and Nathan Buck retrieve and document water samples from the CTD (an instrument that measures conductivity, temperature, and depth).

Hydrothermal Plumes and Prospecting

The chance of successfully finding hydrothermal vent sites is greatly increased by searching first for the plumes emitted from the vents and not by searching for the vents themselves. Oceanographers rely on a basic tool: a conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) package with optical and chemical sensors to locate vent sites.

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Hydrothermal Vents, Ocean Chemistry and Extreme Microbes

Hydrothermal Vents, Ocean Chemistry, and Extreme Microbes

Along these volcanic ridges lies a hidden, but important, cycle of water transport that plays a key role in maintaining the chemical composition of the oceans.

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Submarine Volcanism

The "Ring of Fire" is a circular arc of active volcanoes that surrounds the Pacific Ocean basin. Much is known about the volcanoes on land within the Ring of Fire (for example, in the Aleutians, the Cascades, the Andes, etc.), but comparatively little is known about the submarine volcanoes.

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An explosion near the summit of West Mata volcano within the Lau Basin throws ash and rock, while molten lava glows below.

What is the Ring of Fire?

Did you know that most of the active volcanoes on Earth are located underwater, along the aptly named Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean?

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Can Volcanic Eruptions Occur Underwater?

Even though most submarine volcanoes do not produce the spectacular eruption events of some of their land counterparts, undersea volcanic activity is a constant process that shapes the features of the ocean.

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Lessons

For each Ocean Explorer expedition, lessons are provided to support the content associated with the mission. You can visit our website here to search for lessons on a wide variety of deep-sea and open ocean topics. Use the search engine and see what you find on vents and volcanoes. Here we provide you with some of our best vents and volcanoes lessons.

Creatures of Change

Grades: 6-8 or 9-12

Focus
Vailulu'u seamount ecosystems (Life Science/Earth Science)

Students will create physical models that illustrate changes in Vailulu'u seamount topography over time, and use these models and other evidence to make inferences about the relationship between physical and biological components of Vailulu'u seamount ecosystems.

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Viscous Volcanoes

Grades: 6-8

Focus
Mud volcanoes

Students describe mud volcanoes, contrast them with magma volcanoes, and explain how these structures, the Mariana Islands, and the Mariana Trench are related to the motion of tectonic plates.

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Volcanoes, Acids and Champagne!

Grades: 6-8, with adaptations for grades 9-12

Focus
Deep-ocean volcano chemistry

Students construct an explanation based on evidence for how carbon dioxide from deep-ocean volcanoes could affect acidity of the surrounding seawater; develop a model that uses cause and effect relationships between temperature, pressure, and states of matter to predict the state of carbon dioxide from deep-ocean volcanoes; and interpret the location of the Mariana Arc and Mariana Trench to provide evidence of the motions of tectonic plates.

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Let’s Make a Tubeworm!

Grades: 5-6

Focus
Hydrothermal vent ecosystems

Students will explain the overall structure of hydrothermal vents and how they are related to the motion of tectonic plates, describe the process of chemosynthesis in general terms, contrast chemosynthesis and photosynthesis, describe the anatomy of vestimentiferans, and explain how these organisms obtain their food.

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A Hydrothermal AdVENTure

Grades: 5-6

Focus
Hydrothermal vents

Students will explain the overall structure of hydrothermal vents and how they are related to the motion of tectonic plates, and will create a model of a hydrothermal vent.

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The Chemosynthetic Café

Grades: 7-8

Focus
Biochemistry of hydrothermal vents

Students will compare and contrast food web energy sources in hydrothermal vent and aerobic environments, and will use models to explain the overall chemistry of autotrophic nutrition.

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The Oceanographic Yo-Yo

Grades: 7-8

Focus
CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth profiler), ocean chemistry and hydrothermal vents

Students will analyze and interpret data from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer to make inferences about the possible presence of hydrothermal vents. Students will explain how interaction with hydrothermal vents affects chemical and physical properties of seawater.

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El Yoyó oceanográfico

Grados: 7-8

Foco
Química oceánica y respiraderos hidrotermales (Ciencias físicas)

Los estudiantes analizan e interpretan datos provenientes del buque Okeanos Explorer de NOAA para hacer inferencias acerca de la presencia de respiraderos hidrotermales y para explicar cómo la interacción con los respiraderos hidrotermales afecta las propiedades químicas y físicas del agua de mar.
Actividad práctica: utilizar pruebas de columnas de agua como modelo para usar como evidencia de un respiradero hidrotermal

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Boiling Hot

Grades: 7-8

Focus
Effects of temperature and pressure on solubility and phase state

Students use conceptual models of matter to explain the effect of temperature and pressure on solubility and phase state, and construct explanations for observed chemical phenomena around deep-sea volcanoes that are consistent with principles of solubility and phase state.

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The Tell-Tale Plume

Grades: 9-12

Focus
Hydrothermal Vent Chemistry

Students will describe hydrothermal vents, identify changes that they cause to the physical and chemical properties of seawater, and use oceanographic data to recognize a probable plume from hydrothermal activity.

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The Magma Factory

Grades: 9-12

Focus
Volcanic processes at convergent tectonic plate boundaries

Students analyze and interpret data to construct explanations for processes that form volcanoes at convergent tectonic plate boundaries, and for the role of water in these processes.

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Multimedia

Multimedia Discovery Missions (MDMs) are interactive multimedia presentations and learning activities that address topics ranging from Chemosynthesis and Hydrothermal Vent Life and Deep-sea Benthos to Food, Water and Medicine from the Sea. Each MDM includes a 7-9 minute animated Lesson, a 4-5 minute animation on Global Impacts, and three interactive activities.

Chemosynthesis and Hydrothermal Vent Life

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Mid-Ocean Ridges

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Subduction Zones

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Below are links to a few videos, images, and interactive resources focused on vents and volcanoes.

OceanAGE Careers Connections

The Ocean Careers to Inspire Another Generation of Explorers, or OceanAGE Careers webpage, invites students to learn about the talented people who explore our ocean planet. From underwater pilots to research scientists, these marine explorers provide students with first-hand knowledge of exciting careers through videotaped interviews and written profiles. Here are a couple of scientists who study and explore hydrothermal vent systems.

Explorers in Training

Meet NOAA's newest ocean explorers, who have trained on the Okeanos Explorer.

Past Ocean Exploration Expeditions Related to Vents and Volcanoes

The above items are only a selection of vents and volcanoes content on our website.

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