Background and Funding

OASES 2012 is special for the fact that it has received support from both the oceanographic and astrobiology communities. This fact is an indication of the unique place that the seafloor holds in human exploration—both of Earth and beyond.

Very little of the deep ocean has been mapped or even explored, and virtually every attempt to reveal the unknown depths raises as many questions as it answers. Nowhere is this more evident than in recent attempts to understand the geology, chemistry, and biology of slow spreading centers such as those found along the Mid-Cayman Rise.

In places like these, hydrothermal venting offers unparalleled insight into the physical processes, both on the surface and deep in the mantle, that have shaped the face of our planet almost from its formation. It is also here on the deep ocean floor, far beyond the reach of sunlight and in the middle of some of the most hostile conditions on Earth, that discoveries of previously unknown animals upended our notions of life and raised tantalizing clues to how life may have gained its first, tenuous foothold on the planet.

In addition to forming a crucial part of the puzzle that is the planetary and biological evolution of Earth, knowledge of places like this is also helping advance knowledge of how life might begin and survive elsewhere in the solar system and, indeed, the wider Universe. For this reason, this cruise and previous cruises to the Mid-Cayman Rise are being and have been carried out with the generous support of both the Ocean Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation and the NASA program - Astrobiology Science & Technology for Exploring Planets.

Pillow lavas on the seafloor (left) bear a striking resemblance to those found on land (right).

Grant Funding
Venting Outside the Box: Extending the Known Limits to Seafloor Hydrothermal Circulation and the Chemosynthetic Life it Supports, NSF (2011).
Oases for Life and Pre-Biotic Chemistry: Hydrothermal Exploration Using Advanced Underwater Robotics, NASA (2008)

Additional Information
"Diverse styles of venting on the ultraslow spreading Mid Cayman Rise," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jun 28, 2010
"Living Where the Sun Don't Shine," The Economist, October 8, 2009.

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