Ballard Expedition Examines Galápagos Rift

Dr. Robert Ballard’s Exploration Vessel E/V Nautilus and its Corps of Exploration are currently looking into the depths of the Galápagos Marine Reserve and they’ve been sending back some fascinating video from thousands of feet below the ocean surface.  You can follow their live video stream on the Nautilus site via this link.  It’s part of their most ambitious expedition season yet, exploring sites ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to British Columbia through late September.   The Galápagos part of the expedition runs through July 5.

Explorer Robert Ballard

NOAA

Explorer Robert Ballard

Of particular interest to Ballard’s group are the hydrothermal vents in the Galápagos Rift region. In 1977, scientists found evidence that life could be sustained from chemicals coming out of the Earth’s crust rather than from sunlight.  Some of those vents are at a depth of 8,000 feet. Chemosynthetic bacteria, drawing energy from seawater-rock interactions at the vent sites, make up the foundation of the food chain for a variety of organisms including clams, mussels, and tubeworms. Many of those rare creatures have now been photographed by Ballard’s cameras.

“The giant tube worms were off the charts,” Ballard said in an online chat.  “My first reaction was, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.'”

Ballard, the Director of the Center for Ocean Exploration, in the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, is best known for discovering the wreck of the steamship Titanic in 1985, the German battleship Bismark in 1989 and the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown in 1998.