Ocean Networks wraps up three-week expedition

Hundreds of yards of ocean floor mapped out for researchers.

Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) has finished mapping hundreds of yards of the ocean floor off the West Coast that could help researchers understand the ecosystems that thrive in the depths of the ocean.

Last month, the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada launched a three-week unprecedented expedition of unexplored waters. Two ships — exploration vessel Nautilus and research vessel Thomas G. Thompson, visited eight sites on ONC’s west coast observatories in the Salish Sea and Pacific Ocean.

According to Maia Hoeberechts, co-chief scientist on the Nautilus and associate director, user services, scientists were able to map three vent fields using visual imagery, known as photogrammetry.

Vent fields, commonly found where tectonic plates are moving apart, form along mid-ocean ridges where superheated mineral-enriched water is emitted from the sea floor.

Using a remotely-operated vehicle, the ship took video of everything in the vent fields, which a researcher will use to create 3D models.

“That’s going to be really useful for researchers in the future to have a great idea of what the geography of that vent field looks like and for planning future instrumentation and also to research changes over time,” Hoeberechts said. “If we seen some of the chimneys changing — getting smaller or bigger — we can use these as a reference.”

The vent fields are also home to ecosystems that are not present anywhere else in the world and can help researchers understand how long they can live for and how far they can spread along the mid-ocean ridges.

“They’re driven at the base of the food chain not by the sun, not through photosynthesis, but rather through chemical synthesis, of the vent fluid that’s being emitted,” Hoeberechts said. “We’re trying to understand the extent of the area that can be colonized.”

Scientists may have also discovered a new style of Nudibranch, a soft-bodied critter known for its colours and striking forms in the mid-ocean ridges.

“It was one that no one in our network of scientists have ever seen before,” she said, adding it was white and had spikes. “We’re working with researchers to identify this critter to see if it’s new or if its known.”

During the expedition, the ships also did live-feed sessions with 14 classes, one as far away as Hawaii.

The expedition was the last of the season. In the fall, Ocean Networks Canada will present its findings at a number of different conferences.