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Helena-Wiklund.jpg

What do you study at the Museum?

I study polychaetes (marine segmented worms), from the deep sea and from whale-falls and hydrothermal vents. Polychaetes are related to earth worms but usually a lot prettier and more colourful. I am describing new species that we discover in the deep sea samples, and I sequence their DNA to see how they are related to each other.

 

The DNA sequences can also be used to study how these worms move around in the sea. It can be useful to know if they can go anywhere else if their current habitat becomes inhospitable or if they're stuck in one place and doomed when bad things happen.

 

What are you most excited about finding/seeing on the trip?

If we get those whale bones up from the sea floor, I am sure that there are undescribed worm species on them. I am very curious to see what they look like, and also to bring them back to the lab and sequence their DNA to see where they belong among the other worms from similar habitats.

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

In my undergraduate studies I spent one year on Svalbard studying Arctic Biology, and we went on several field trips both on sea and on land. And then I've been to New Zealand, Chile and on an expedition to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and on several expeditions at sea back home in Sweden.

 

What is your favourite thing about going on field work?

My favourite thing is getting the samples! It's a lot like looking for treasure; whenever the sampling gear comes aboard we're all very excited to see what is brought up with it. Even a heap of mud can cause quite a shuffle when everybody wants to see what's in it and pick out the things they work on.

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Leigh-Marsh.jpg

What do you study?

I am studying for a PhD at the University of Southampton, based at the National Oceanography Centre, but I work with colleagues at the Natural History Museum. I use video footage taken by a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) to study animals that live at hydrothermal vents.

 

What are you most excited about seeing/finding on the trip?

Taking REX into the Blue Hole. Who knows what we will find 200m down…

 

Where have you been previously on field work?

I have worked in the North Sea, English Channel and the Antarctic, so I am looking forward to working somewhere hot for a change!

 

What is your best experience whilst on field work?

Being one of the first people to see the hydrothermal vents in the Antarctic. They're not easy to find, but we managed to discover two new vent fields. This new discovery yielded several new species to science, including the much talked about 'Hoff crab'.

 

Is anything worrying you about the trip?

Working with electronics and water is always a risky business! Let’s hope everything is plugged in and water-tight!

 

What advice would you give to someone going on field work for the first time?

Take your favourite tea bags and your own mug!

 

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That's it for today - tomorrow we'll meet the rest of the team.

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The Mid-Atlantic ridge is the zone running north to south along the bed of the Atlantic Ocean where two major tectonic plates are gradually moving apart, causing volcanic and other geological activity.  As the plates separate slowly, the rock fractures and sea water becomes heated by contact with hot and molten rock below the surface.  This hot water dissolves minerals and contains highly concentrated levels of a range of chemical substances. 

In places this water is forced from hydrothermal vents on the bed of the sea, forming plumes of superheated hot water that rise into the ocean, sometimes carrying thick black particulates.  As the water cools slightly at the vent, various dissolved chemicals are deposited to make large mineral structures such as chimneys and other forms. Exploration of this environment has been increasing over the past forty years with the development of advanced equipment and remotely-operated vehicles: small submarines that carry sophisticated scientific probes and cameras.

The bottom of the ocean is not generally fertile in comparison to coastal seas, but hydrothermal vents are home to dense populations of animals, supported by bacteria that flourish in the chemical-rich waters. The high sulphur and mineral content of the water would make it toxic to most organisms, but some species have evolved to tolerate the temperature and chemical environment.  The animals either consume the bacteria (or one another) directly, or have, in the case of bivalve mussels, symbiotic bacteria in their gill tissue that enables them to use sulphur compounds to produce energy.  These environments are small islands of fertility on the ocean floor, of great evolutionary and ecological interest.

Dr Adrian Glover (Zoology) is part of a team of co-authors in an international team from Portugal, France and the UK who have recently described assemblages of animals from the 11m-high Eiffel Tower structure in the Lucky Strike hydrothermal vent field 1700 metres deep on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, just to the south of the Azores. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower can be seen on the IFREMER site.

They sampled temperature and sulphide were measured in the water at two different assemblages: one dominated by shrimps and the other by mussels. Temperature, rather than sulphide concentration, appeared to be the major environmental factor affecting the distributions of the resident hydrothermal vent species. The highest temperature variability and the highest maximum recorded temperatures were found in the assemblages visibly inhabited by alvinocaridid shrimp and dense mussel beds of large Bathymodiolus azoricus, whereas the less variable and more stable habitats were inhabited by smaller-sized mussels with increasing bare surface in between.

 

D Cuvelier et al. (2011) Hydrothermal faunal assemblages and habitat characterisation at the Eiffel Tower edifice (Lucky Strike, Mid-Atlantic Ridge). Marine Ecology (2011) doi:10.1111/j.1439-0485.2010.00431.x.