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Black smoke

Research chair sailing off coast of Fiji, exploring underwater volcanoes


By Kelly Foss

Memorial University is partnering with the Schmidt Ocean Institute, the Johnson GEO Centre and the Oceans Learning Partnership to live broadcast a deep-sea expedition in the South Pacific Ocean on March 29.

Dr. John Jamieson, Canada Research Chair in Marine Geology and an assistant professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, is currently on-board the R/V Falkor as part of a scientific team exploring an underwater volcano near the island of Fiji.

The co-principal investigator of the Niua volcano research expedition is using his training in economic and marine geology to study ore deposits on the sea floor. Watch a video featuring Dr. Jamieson and the Falkor below.

“In particular, I study black smokers—hot water springs that form on underwater volcanoes—and this area has a number of them,” said Dr. Jamieson. “The hot water that comes up is around 400 degrees. It doesn’t boil, but the ‘smoke’ you see is actually tiny minerals containing copper, zinc, gold and silver.”

While a controversial push to start mining the sea floor is now on, Dr. Jamieson says his job is to understand the hot water springs: how big they are, how to find them, what their composition is and what toxic minerals they may have.

Uncovering the unknown

He also works with biologists to study the very unique habitat created by black smokers, as they are home to chemosynthetic ecosystems—the only known ecosystems that don’t rely on sunlight.

“One of the risks of mining black smoker systems is the destruction of these habitats, because we know very little about them,” said Dr. Jamieson said. “But we are interested geologically in the processes occurring down there and are going to be testing some new tools to better explore the sea floor for whatever the purpose may be.”

The Schmidt Ocean Institute, founded by Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, and his wife Wendy Schmidt, are providing the ship time. The team is also taking a Canadian remotely operated vehicle, ROPOS, to do the underwater exploring.

The Canadian remotely operated vehicle, ROPOS.
The Canadian remotely operated vehicle, ROPOS.
Photo: Submitted

Local high school and undergraduate students are invited to sign up to watch live underwater footage from the submersible, learn about the deep-sea technology being used and ask questions to the scientists and crew on-board, all from the Johnson GEO Centre.

Students will also get hands-on ocean technology demonstrations from several Newfoundland and Labrador companies, including Kraken Sonar Systems, Fugro GeoSurveys and SULIS Subsea Corporation.

Interested students can  reserve their seat for the Tuesday, March 29, event by signing up here.

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