Using a novel detector attached to a submarine, a research team led by University of Delaware marine scientists has determined that water chemistry controls the location and distribution of two species of weird worms that inhabit deep-sea hydrothermal vent sites. The study, which is the first to demonstrate through real-time measurements how different chemical compounds control the biology at the vents, is reported in the April 12 edition of Nature.
The interdisciplinary research team included chemists, biologists, and marine engineers from the UD Graduate College of Marine Studies, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Rutgers University, and Analytical Instrument Systems, Inc. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the UD Sea Grant College Program, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
UDs George Luther, a marine chemist, and Craig Cary, a marine biologist, worked with Don Nuzzio, president of Analytical Instrument Systems in Flemington, New Jersey, to develop a chemical detector capable of withstanding the harsh conditions at the vents. Their "electrochemical analyzer" consists of a foot-long wand that houses several needle-like, gold-tipped electrodes, which are coated in super-tough plastic to protect them from heat. The wand, which resembles a large, hand-held hairdrier, is connected to a 3-foot-long, 8-inch-diameter tube that houses the systems electronics. The tube is mounted to the bottom of the submarine Alvin.
Once attached to one of Alvins highly maneuverable arms, the analyzers wand can be placed near a vent to instantaneously reveal the ingredients in the sulfur-rich stew rocketing out of the Earths crust.
"One of the analyzers greatest benefits is its ability to detect a number of sulfur compounds simultaneously, such as iron monosulfide, hydrogen sulfide, thiosulfate, polysulfide and others," says Luther. "Previous techniques could not identify these compounds, which are the lifeblood of
Contact: Tracey Bryant
University of Delaware