Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live

A newly discovered hydrothermal field at the northern Gorda Ridge in the Pacific Ocean has been named the Apollo Vent Field in honor of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s Moon landing this July.

The SUBSEA (Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog) Research Program team aboard Exploration Vessel Nautilus (E/V Nautilus) tagged the feature. Doing so is fitting since the SUBSEA project isn’t just ocean research – it is also an analog project designed to contribute to the future of space exploration.

Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live

Off-Earth ocean systems

The Apollo vent field offers a rare glimpse into environments that could be windows into ocean systems elsewhere in our Solar System – on moons such as Saturn’s Enceladus and Jupiter’s Europa.

Jupiter’s Europa could be site for water…and life?
Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

SUBSEA is a partnership between NASA Science Mission Directorate’S PSTAR Program, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Ocean Exploration Trust, and multiple academic research centers.

NASA’s Planetary Science and Technology from Analog Research (PSTAR) program addresses the need for integrated interdisciplinary field experiments as an integral part of preparation for planned human and robotic missions.

Darlene Lim, served as senior scientist on the Apollo Vent Field investigation. Lim is from NASA Ames/Bay Area Environmental Research Institute (BAERI).

Seafloor activity

The target of the 2019 SUBSEA expedition was the Gorda Ridge, discovered offshore of northern California and Oregon.

This section of mid-ocean ridge is of interest to ocean researchers in that it hosts seafloor hydrothermal activity that departs from the convention of “black smoker” hydrothermal systems.

The focus of exploration was the SeaCliff hydrothermal field, which has previously been reported to emit clear fluids at temperatures no greater than 300°C. The emphasis of the dive was on locating the SeaCliff hydrothermal field for the first time in roughly 15 years and then carry out geological reconnaissance of the site to identify its current size and shape and the number of vents present and the range of temperatures for those vents.

Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Credit: NASA

Teleoperations

The SUBSEA Science team utilizes remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) to observe, survey, gather instrument data, and collect samples from analog environments that mimic potential volcanic hydrothermal systems on other ocean worlds, such as Enceladus.

During the SUBSEA field deployment, researchers tested technology and scientific procedures necessary for crewed space exploration. A human-robotic mission to the Moon or Mars might parallel SUBSEA’s mission architecture using robotic explorers controlled by humans nearby, receiving direction from a remote team of scientists.

Ultimately, the results of SUBSEA’s research can inform both strategies for conducting science via teleoperations at destinations such as the Moon or Mars and scientists’ understanding of a wider range of deep-sea environments for conducting ocean world research.

The Apollo Vent Field is part of Gorda Ridge. Credit: Ocean Exploration Trust/Nautilus Live

The SUBSEA team work at the Gorda Ridge built upon the work conducted during the first field program at Lō`ihi Seamount off Hawai’i in 2018.

The E/V Nautilus is operated by the non-profit organization Ocean Exploration Trust, founded in 2008 by Robert Ballard to engage in pure ocean exploration.

Resources

To view the newly discovered Apollo Vent Field via a Nautilus Live video, go to:

https://youtu.be/mlj1d5OomzY

E/V Nautilus is exploring unknown regions of the ocean seeking out new discoveries in biology, geology, and archaeology. You can join the team 24/7 for live video from the seafloor and to ask questions of the explorers currently aboard Nautilus at:

www.nautiluslive.org

Also, go to this informative video about the underwater campaign at:

https://youtu.be/2QXsd8XUp0o

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