Deep-sea extreme environments
courtesy of D. Kelley, Univ. Washington
FLEXE uses the excitement of deep-sea extreme environments to engage middle and high school students in learning science. These extreme environments include mid-ocean ridges and cold seeps. Although conditions are harsh in these environments (see box to the right), these extreme environments are teeming with life.
Integrated earth systems
Many patterns and processes in these ecosystems can only be understood through
interdisciplinary investigations conducted by teams of researchers.
Geologic processes (e.g. mantle convection, plate tectonic movement, volcanic
eruptions, salt tectonics) drive hydrologic processes (e.g. seawater circulation
through crustal rocks, dissolution of minerals, formation of hydrothermal vent fluids, methane
These geochemical processes provide rich energy sources to complex deep-sea ecosystems: species-rich
biological communities are powered not by photosynthetic plants, but by
chemosynthetic bacteria and archaea that derive energy using chemicals leached from crustal rocks.
Living organisms, from microscopic bacteria to 2m-long tubeworms, affect their
physiochemical environment as well as each other.
Take a Google Ocean Tour
To see what some of these extreme sites are like, visit the Deep Sea Ridge 2000 Google Earth Tour.
Harsh conditions for life
Conditions in these systems would quickly kill many terrestrial organisms:
The seafloor is so deep that no sunlight penetrates, and pressure
Toxic chemicals (e.g. sulfides) are often present in high concentrations.
There can be steep spatial gradients and rapid temporal fluctuations in temperature, pH and
salinity (e.g. hydrothermal vents jet super-hot acidic fluid into near-freezing seawater).