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Deep Ocean Researcher to Speak in Ludwick Lecture Series

Chris German

Chris German, a researcher from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution known internationally for his probes of the deep ocean, will deliver the 2011 Ludwick Lecture at Old Dominion University on Thursday, March 17.

The presentation, "Hydrothermal Systems as Oases for Life: Deep Ocean Exploration on Earth - and Beyond," will begin at 3 p.m. in Room 200 of the Oceanography and Physical Sciences Building. The Ludwick Lecture, named for Jack Ludwick, former director of the Institute of Oceanography at ODU, is free and open to the public.

German is a senior scientist and chief scientist for deep submergence at Woods Hole. He won worldwide recognition in the 1990s by proving his theory that hydrothermal vents could exist anywhere along the mid-ocean ridge system that zigzags around the Earth's ocean floor in a continuous 37,000-mile chain. (More than half of Earth is covered by water that is at least two miles deep, and the deepest known trenches are almost seven miles below the water's surface.)

The first known vent sites, hosting amazing communities of exotic life that live off the chemicals and minerals spewing from the ocean floor, were found in the late 1970s on two fast-spreading Mid-Ocean Ridge volcanic centers - the Galapagos Rift and the East Pacific Rise. When German was studying for his doctorate at Cambridge University in the 1980s, many scientists doubted that hydrothermal vents existed in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, where volcanic activity is much less prevalent.

German's research has utilized a free-swimming robotic vehicle named the Autonomous Benthic Explorer to "sniff out" deep ocean vents, allowing him to precisely target the dives of larger, remotely operated vehicles and submersibles. These larger craft are capable of collecting samples, extensive data and images.

While working in the south Atlantic, German discovered the hottest known hydrothermal vent plumes (407 degrees Celsius). More recently, working with Chinese oceanographers, he helped discover the first vents ever found on the ultra-slow-spreading Southwest Indian Ridge.

A team of scientists led by German employed the Nereus, an unmanned craft developed and operated by Woods Hole, to explore the Mid-Cayman Rise near the Cayman Islands in 2009. That expedition resulted in a 2010 article in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science describing the scientists' discovery of at least three hydrothermal sites, including one that is more than three miles below the surface.

The hydrothermal activity on the oceans' floors, and the odd creatures found near the plumes that get their energy from methane rather than sunlight, could hold clues to the development of life on Earth, and possibly could aid in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Each year the Ludwick Lecture Series brings a leader in oceanographic research to the ODU campus to interact with students and faculty in small groups, and with local residents at a lecture of broad community interest.

For more information about the Ludwick Lecture, contact Jennifer Georgen, assistant professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, at jgeorgen@odu.edu.

This article was posted on: March 11, 2011

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