Explore the Deep Sea

Expeditions

Researchers work together to explore and study areas where tectonic plates are moving apart.

Dangerous and far away

Diagram showing the 3 main Ridge 2000 study sites in the Pacific.

Ocean-floor volcanoes and vents are mostly found hundreds of miles from land and thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean. Traveling to these areas requires time and a ship. Diving thousands of meters to underwater volcanoes requires sophisticated equipment that can withstand the immense pressure of the deep ocean, not to mention a wide range of temperatures and acidity. So researchers often collaborate to mount expeditions to particular ocean-floor sites.

Many fields of study—working together

Charlie Langmuir and colleagues. Image courtesy of Kristen Kusek

The NSF-funded Ridge 2000 program encourages scientists from many different fields of study to work together to share information and ideas. This collaboration helps researchers make faster progress in answering important questions in geology, chemistry, biology and other scientific fields.

Each expedition is led by a chief scientist. He or she decides what research takes place and when. The timetable is carefully planned beforehand, but sometimes has to be revised on short notice—when equipment breaks or a new discovery needs to be explored further.

Cruises by name, not by nature

Researchers raising equipment back onto the deck. Image courtesy of Charlotte Goddard.

Life on-board ship is often hectic. A great deal needs to be packed into the schedule. Research continues day and night, with many aboard getting little or no sleep for days in a row. Since the number of berths on each ship is limited, researchers are often short-handed and have to help each other out. So it's somewhat ironic that research expeditions are often referred to as "cruises:" it's hard to imagine a voyage less like the relaxing journey of a holiday cruise.

Most expeditions are planned ahead of time…

Scientists studying mid-ocean ridges typically plan expeditions months or even years ahead. Careful planning helps scientists to:

Cartoon of a calendar, showing marked expedition dates.

... Some expeditions need to be put together quickly

Cartoon of a calendar, showing a big question mark over dates.

Nature isn't always predictable — interesting events often happen without much warning. If scientists want to study the event as it happens, they need to be quick off the mark. This is certainly true for scientists who study the dynamic environments of mid-ocean ridges. The volcanic eruptions and hydrothermal venting along these ridges don't necessarily happen often or last very long. If scientists want to catch these events as they unfold they need to respond quickly, or risk losing the opportunity to collect unique and important information.

Expedition Sites

Next: Expeditions to the East Pacific in 2006