Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bizarre Deep-Sea Communities Give Up Secrets

Bizarre Deep-Sea Communities Give Up SecretsA team of scientists have observed, for the first time, the bizarre deep-seacommunities living around cold methane seeps off New Zealand's east coast.The team, comprised of scientists from the United States and New Zealand,have spent the last two weeks exploring the cold water "chemosynthetic"ecosystems onboard New Zealand's National Institute of Water and AtmosphericResearch's (NIWA) deepwater research vessel Tangaroa. The team visited eightcold seep sites to the east of New Zealand's North Island, lying at depthsof 750-1,050 m (2,300-3,200 feet). Cold seeps are areas of the seafloor where methane or hydrogen sulphide gasbubbles up from below. Like hydrothermal vents, cold seeps support unique,and sometimes bizarre, ecosystems. Animals like the tube worm (pictured),for example, live in symbiosis with microbes that can convert chemicals fromthe seep into living matter ("chemosynthesis") without sunlight. This expedition was the first to assess the biodiversity of the animalcommunities living at New Zealand's cold seeps. "The seeps off New Zealandare remarkable in the sheer extent of their chemosynthetic communities,"said researcher Dr Amy Baco-Taylor.

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