SETI Deep sea probe to be tested at Monterey Aquarium

Larry Klaes (
Tue, 27 Jul 1999 09:31:01 -0400

>Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999 18:34:19 -0700 (PDT)
>Subject: Deep sea probe to be tested at Monterey Aquarium
>To: undisclosed-recipients:;
>PASADENA, CALIF. 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
>Contact: Diane Ainsworth, JPL Media Relations (818) 354-0850
> Mimi Drummond, Monterey Bay Aquarium Media Relations
> (831) 648-4918
> A new aluminum deep sea probe, the prototype of one designed
>to withstand crushing pressures and extreme temperatures, is set
>to be lowered to depths of 9 meters (30 feet) in Monterey Bay
>Aquarium's giant kelp forest July 28 as part of NASA's hunt for
>clues to life's origins.
> Scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
>CA, will sink the new package of underwater cameras, temperature
>sensors, optics and a spectrometer into the emerald waters of a
>controlled aquatic environment to test the capabilities of more
>advanced instruments to explore the interior of volcanic vents.
>These cracks in the sea floor, occurring at depths of between 500
>meters and 4,000 meters (1,650 feet and 13,200 feet), are known
>to nurture a pageantry of macabre bottom-dwellers such as salps,
>siphonophores, crustaceans and gelatinous animals only recently
>discovered at such depths.
> "These instruments will be able to record water temperatures
>in the throat of a vent, capture video and low- and- high-
>resolution still images of the walls of the vent, and record
>spectral or fluorescent signatures of minerals and bioluminescent
>life dwelling in these crevices," said Dr. Arthur Lane, manager
>of the Underwater Volcanic Vent Mission probe at JPL. "The
>experiment will demonstrate a more sophisticated set of
>instruments that will be used in late August and September to
>probe the Pitcairn, McDonald and Teahitia seamounts near Tahiti,
>where hydrothermal vents range from 900 meters to 3,600 meters
>(2,970 feet to 11,880 feet) in depth."
> The mission will gather preliminary data and serve as a
>stepping stone in the development of technology and instrument
>housing required in the search for evidence of life in extreme,
>high-pressure liquid environments. This information will aid in
>NASA's proposed efforts to develop technologies capable of
>exploring more extreme liquid and ice environments, such as Lake
>Vostok in Antarctica, and eventually, to send instrumented probes
>to the Martian polar caps and frozen oceans on Jupiter's moon,
>Europa, and Saturn's moon, Titan.
> The discovery of gelatinous material in underwater volcanic
>vents has opened a new chapter in the search for life and
>organisms that can survive in extreme environments. Hydrothermal
>vents and the biological communities thriving in these remote
>pockets of the sea floor are found primarily at tectonic plate
>junctions at temperatures ranging from nearly 80 to almost 400
>degrees Celsius (170 to 750 degrees Fahrenheit) and at pressures
>as high as 6,000 pounds per square inch. Typical water
>temperatures inside the vents range from 200 to more than 350
>degrees C (392 to 662 degrees F) and drop quickly to ambient
>temperatures of about 4 degrees C (39 degrees F) outside of the
> To date, organisms living near the vents are known to
>inhabit only the waters outside of the vents. Layers of
>gelatinous material attached to the vents are presumed to be
>organic and the product of living organisms. Researchers have
>reported that on at least one occasion the gel appeared to
>emanate directly from a vent throat.
> "If there are indeed life forms present inside these vents,
>their presence may challenge accepted notions of the temperature
>ranges at which life can function," Lane said.
> Last year, Lane and colleague Lloyd French of JPL, in
>collaboration with Dr. Gary McMurtry of the University of Hawaii,
>developed and deployed an instrumented probe into the Forbidden
>Vent Fields near the summit of the Loihi seamount, an underwater
>Hawaiian volcano.
>That probe was tested last year in Monterey aquarium's kelp tank
>before its deployment in Hawaii.
> "The probe was capable only of limited visual imaging and
>temperature determination at depths of approximately 1,500 meters
>(4,950 feet)," French said. "Since that time, we've been able to
>increase the depths at which these instruments can operate to
>more than 4,000 meters (13,200 feet). The free-standing package
>of instruments will be able to acquire temperature data, video
>imaging and high-resolution digital stills. This year we're also
>testing a new light source and spectrographic instrument to see
>if we can gather more information about the bacterial growth --
>what looked like thin veils of jellyfish-like material -- we
>observed last year around the Loihi vent."
> During the mission this August and September, scientists
>will use the French research vessel L'Atalante to test their
>instrument probe in several deep ocean volcanic vents in the
>South Pacific. Using a deep submersible called Nautile, equipped
>with a robotic arm, they will place the 142-centimeter (56-inch)
>titanium tube housing the instruments inside several vents in the
>area to investigate the presence and nature of organic matter.
> Once the technology has been developed and demonstrated to
>work at depths of 4,000 meters (13,200 feet), the probe's
>external shell will be modified for use in sub-glacial lakes like
>Lake Vostok, an ancient freshwater lake that appears to extend
>about that deep beneath Antarctic's surface. The design may also
>become a prototype for a probe that could penetrate Mars' icy
>polar caps and search for microbial life, or explore a liquid
>ocean thought to lie 7 kilometers to 8 kilometers (about 4 miles
>to 5 miles) below the icy surface of Europa.
> The Tahiti underwater volcanic vent mission is a
>collaboration of the international POLYNAUT campaign in the South
>Pacific, conducted by the French Institute of Research and
>Exploitation of the Sea, with involvement from the University of
>Hawaii and NASA/JPL. JPL's work on the project is conducted for
>NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a
>division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
> #####
>7/26/99 DEA
>You are subscribed to JPL's news mailing list. To unsubscribe,
>please send an e-mail to and in the body
>of the message include the following line.
>unsubscribe news
>Please do not reply to this e-mail.
>For help, send a message to >For help, send a message to

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0b3 on Sun Aug 01 1999 - 16:28:46 PDT