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Healy researchers make a series of striking discoveries about Arctic Ocean

Contrary to their expectations, scientists on a research cruise to the Arctic Ocean have found evidence that the Gakkel Ridge, the world's slowest spreading mid-ocean ridge, may be very volcanically active. They also believe that conditions in a field of undersea vents, known as "black smokers," could support previously unknown species of marine life.

The findings were among a range of discoveries made by researchers aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy, an icebreaker equipped for science, and a companion German research vessel, the Polarstern, in late August, early in a nine-week cruise to the Gakkel Ridge, Earth's least volcanically active mid-ocean ridge.

"We accomplished easily a factor of two more than we planned," said Peter Michael, of the University of Tulsa, the U.S. chief scientist on the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge Expedition (AMORE).

Michael and other AMORE researchers discussed their findings Nov. 28 at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Among other important milestones from the cruise, scientists discovered an as yet unexplained "discontinuity" of volcanic activity along the Gakkel Ridge. Because the southern end of the ridge is spreading relatively quickly and the northern end extremely slowly, the researchers expected volcanic activity to gradually die out as they sailed north. Instead, there were irregular pockets of activity as the cruise moved northwards.

They said they were also pleased to discover that they were able to map the ridge in great detail from the Healy because the vessel was much quieter when breaking ice than expected.

"Our maps show that this ridge is tectonically very different than other ridges, the rift valley is close to a mile deeper with many enormous long-lived faults", explained Henry Dick, an expedition co-chief scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "This likely accounts for w
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Contact: Peter West
pwest@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
28-Nov-2001


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