FLEXE: From Local to Extreme Environments

Deep-sea extreme environments

Cone-shaped black smoker carpeted with tubeworms

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 seepage).
  • 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 is immense.
  • 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).

For more information on:

Scientists studying these environments, visit the Ridge2000 Research Program Website.

Discoveries and background information at hydrothermal vents, visit www.venturedeepocean.org.

FLEXE - Deepening Earth Systems Science Understanding with GLOBE.

This work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number GEO-0627909. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. © CSATS, The Pennsylvania State University

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