Note: Apart from few general sources, all information and citations in this article are gleaned from interviews with, or articles about the work of, marine ecologist David Emerson of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine; Craig Moyer, Professor at the Biology Department of Western Washington University; Brian T. Glazer, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the Department of Oceanography University of Hawaii Manoa (UH); and Clara Chan, Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Delaware.
LIFE ON THE UNDERWATER SLOPES OF LO’IHI
Expeditions to the volcano have often been joint ventures of scientists from various fields of research, including biologists and microbiologists, which is no surprise given that life on an active undersea volcano cannot be researched in many places of the world; rarely any such location is so relatively easy to access as Lōʻihi Seamount.
First, here are some of the deep sea dwellers on the slopes of Lōʻihi (most of the images were captured by deep-sea vehicles of the Schmidt- and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutions). Unlike in other thermally active sea ground habitats, where the living things seem to enjoy the cosy temperatures and the food diversity, there are not very many species found around Lōʻihi. If that has to to with the volcano erupting very often or emitting certain poisonous substances that diminish life, has yet to be found out.
The Slatjaw Cutthroat Eel (Synaphobranchus kaupi) generally occurs as deep as 4800 m. It is probably most common between 800 and 2000 m. This fish has been observed swimming along the bottom by scientists in a submersible. Apparently, this fish can swim backwards, as well as forwards, and can hover head up or down, like a stick in the water!
This cute guy, a goosefish, sits on a rock in a submarine canyon, cunningly using its modified dorsal fin to lure unsuspecting small fishes to its mouth. It is common on the summit of Loihi.
Near the summit of Lō’ihi, small shrimp can be seen. I am not entirely sure if one of these are the Bresiliid shrimp (Opaepele loihi) that are endemic to Lō’ihi Seamount and appear to feed on the microbial mats. It has been said that those have no longer been found after the 1996 eruption, yet these photos are from a 2013(?) exploration.
Would you look at him! If eyes could kill! A rare sighting, two fish in one shot! A large anglerfish and a small, sleek eel-like fish.
I could not but include this mum and her kids (below): Female amphipod with recently hatched young.
All those were no strangers to the biologists, yet a very special surprise was waiting in the deep for oceanographers and microbiologists:
THE IRON-EATERS OF LO’IHI
Since their discovery in 1987, hydrothermal vent fields at the summit of the volcanic Lōʻihi Seamount, near the island of Hawaii, have been the focus of intense research. But only recently did scientists discover that something unusual and important was also happening at the base of this seamount, 5,000 meters down.
A novel hydrothermal field had been discovered at the base of Lōʻihi Seamount at 5000m bsl. Geochemical analyses demonstrate that “FeMO Deep” derives from a distal, ultra-diffuse hydrothermal source. The area “FeMO Deep” is characterized as a regional seafloor seepage of gelatinous iron- and silica-rich deposits, pooling between and over basalt pillows, in places over a meter thick. The system is capped by mm to cm thick hydrothermally derived iron-oxyhydroxide- and manganese-oxide-layered crusts.
There, previously unknown bacterial communities that feed on iron may be playing unappreciated roles in balancing ocean chemistry. Fe-oxidizing bacteria (FeOB) are the dominant bacteria in Lōʻihi’s iron-rich microbial mats, turning Loihi’s underwater slopes an unusual, and characteristic, orange-red. They’re rarely found in other deep-sea or marine habitats, suggesting that they might be restricted to niches where iron is abundant. For decades it had been recognized that FeOB are associated with hydrothermal venting of Fe(II)-rich fluids associated with seamounts in the world’s oceans. So far, the evidence of their existence was based almost entirely on the mineralogical remains of the microbes, but the living matter had never been cultivated, catalogued or otherwise studied up to 2007. It turns out that those critters live on Fe2+ as the sole energy source and CO2 as the only available carbon source – in scientific terms: obligate, lithotrophic FeOB named Mariprofundus ferrooxydans PV-1 of the class Zetaproteobacteria. Or in less accurate terms, they produce the mats as they munch iron and excrete a rusty waste product; they use a little carbon from CO2 to build their cells; and the energy for all that hard work they derive from the oxidation process.
One study suggested that these biogenic “deposits represent a modern analog for one class of geological iron deposits known as “umbers” (for example, Troodos ophiolites, Cyprus) because of striking similarities in size, setting and internal structures”. So, learning more about them could offer insights on the origin of previously unexplained geological features on Earth. Morphological structures similar to those produced by Zetaproteobacteria can still be identified hundreds of millions (and possibly billions) of years back in the geological record, making them of paleontological, and potentially of exobiological, interest. As knowledge of extant populations grows, it is possible this will also help to inform us of environmental changes in past Earth history.
“Ophiolites are oceanic crustal sequences that have been obducted and raised above sea level. To paint with a broad brush, the sequence (from bottom) is one of ultramafic rock, gabbro intrusions, sheeted dykes, pillow lavas, and sometimes topped by pelagic sediment. The Troodos Ophiolite on Cyprus is a fantastic example because it was sort of smeared over the island and at least a little bit of everything can be found at/near the surface. Here we see the sheeted dykes and pillow basalts at a grand scale!” (PH Donohue, Ph.D, on his blog poikiloblastic )
In June 2014 Brian Glazer, an oceanographer at the University of Hawaii Manoa (UH) prepared for an expedition to Lōʻihi, whose base still remains largely unexplored. He and his team from UH, as well as an international group of scientists, were going to survey the seamount’s deeper reaches using Woods Hole Oceanographic’s Sentry autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).
Glazer and his colleagues first found the iron-oxidizing bacterial formations at the base of Lōʻihi by accident. They were looking for some bare rocks to compare against samples they had been collecting at the summit. But then, in between a few basalt boulders they found huge microbial mats – given away by telltale signs of orange layers, or flocs, between volcanic rock formations.
Left: The telltale signs of orange flocculent material at the base of the Loihi Seamount. Right: The ponded bacterial material revealed after the surface layer removed. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic/Brian Glazer
THE RUSTY CITY
“We don’t usually think of bacteria as villages,” one of the scientist says, “For the Zetaproteobacteria that live at Lōʻihi, that might be a good analogy, though. What they do with rust is remarkable.” These undersea designers fashion “skyscrapers,” spires and highways of iron oxide filaments woven together. Zetaproteobacteria are the ultimate in sustainable architects, they recycle rusty minerals into building blocks. They can produce huge amounts of iron oxides connected by sheaths; 100 cells might crank out as much as three feet of sheath in one day. These complex structures regulate water and nutrient flow in the “villages”.
Iron is the fourth most abundant element in Earth’s crust (other sources say fifth), and is essential for life – as we know, iron is the oxygen-carrying component of hemoglobin in your blood. Only, you can’t eat iron, you need to take it in a processed form with your food. Not so Zetaproteobacteria, they are able to derive energy out of iron oxidation, that is, they sustain themselves by turning pure iron into rust. Which in turn is great for the entire marine environment in that the iron oxides the bacteria produce are widely dispersed in the ocean, where they’re an iron source for plankton and other marine life …and for you too, if you eat fish!
Recent discoveries have expanded their range, to deep within the ocean crust, iron deposits in salt marshes, and to the corrosion on steel. In freshwater, their kin are found in roadside ditches, slow-moving streams, wetlands, and on the roots of submerged plants. One indicator of their presence is a metallic sheen on the water, which is sometimes mistaken for an oil slick.
Today, the research for those iron-oxidizing energy-storing bacteria is in full swing. They have been found in many places of the world, preferredly along the mid-ocean ridges but also along the continental shelfs. Scientific research has yet to find out how exactly the metabolism of the bacteria works, what different populations and strains of them may exist, and how they interact with and change their marine environment. The theories, hypotheses and speculations about their future usefulness are running high – as the one about possibilities of creating renewable energy – so, lets wait and drink tea, until our tea water can be heated with electricity made by the Lōʻihi ironeaters – which hopefully will happen somewhat earlier than our stroll along the beach of Lōʻihi Island!
Enjoy! – GRANYIA
– NOAA Oceanexplorer
– A Novel Lineage of Proteobacteria Involved in Formation of Marine Fe-Oxidizing…
– zetahunters – searching for microbes that rust the crust
– Iron-oxidizing bacteria found along Mid-Atlantic Ridge
– Rust villages of the deep: In Pele’s shadow, iron oxide, or rust, comes to life
– Dr. Craig Moyer’s Research Homepage
– Zeta-Proteobacteria dominate the colonization and formation of microbial mats… (pdf)
– Ultra-diffuse hydrothermal venting supports Fe-oxidizing bacteria and massive umber deposition at 5000m off Hawaii (pdf)
– Schmidt Ocean Institute, Ironeaters
– Hidden in plain sight: discovery of sheath-forming, iron-oxidizing Zetaproteobacteria at Loihi Seamount, Hawaii, USA
– Slatjaw Cutthroat Eel, Synaphobranchus kaupi
Also see: Lōʻihi Seamount, Part 1. Hānau Ka Moku – An Island is Born
You can find more interesting stuff on Hawaiian volcanoes in agimarc’s article on Kauai and on Maui Nui as well as Bobbi’s trilogy on Oahu in VC:
Georges Vitton has closed his blog and opened a new nice website instead:
And a beautiful sunrise at Shiveluch in Kamchatka, just minutes ago!
Update Hakone, Japan:
Kanagawa prefectural government sent a drone to fly over the Owakudani area on June 20 to observe the state of the popular tourist spot located in the vicinity of the crater, which has been off-limits since early May. The unexpected result was that some of the facilities that provided hot spring water to the area were damaged, along with sulfur spewing out from holes in the ground. The images showed that more than half of a pump tower had broken apart. Two more of such towers were also significantly damaged. – The volcano is still on alert level 2. From: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201506220023
Photo provided by the Kanagawa prefectural government
How bad are fluoride and sulfur compounds deposited by the Holuhraun eruption on everything in Iceland for Man and animals? – Massive sheep deaths have occured lately all across Iceland and at first nobody had an idea what could have caused it. The assumptions went from it being some sort of disease to perhaps bad hay stored last year, which had been fed this spring. Now it is thought that the mysterious and widespread sheep death may be due to poisoning from the Holuhraun eruption. RÚV reports that there is research underway to see if the recent sickening and dying off of hundreds of sheep can be attributed to the eruption.
It seems that the volcano RAUNG in eastern Java has returned to greater activity. It has been on alert level 2 since November last year, quitened down in recent months but had picked up over the weekend again. The latest MODVOLC images show quite a number of hot spots, which could mean that it has moved on from so far sporadic strombolian to more eplosive mode. Or that the strombolian eruption has become very effusive.
Raung sits at the edge of the Ijen Caldera complex. It has a 2.3 km wide caldera with nearly vertical inner walls of abt. 600 m depth. Historical eruptions in the 16.-18. century and massive lahars in the 19. century have cost the lives of thousands of people. (Wikipedia).
Gunung Raung. Eruption 17. Juli 1913
Credit: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures
Thanks for the posts and updates Granyia! Good Stuff as always.
Although in their report from Tuesday IGEPN state that the seismic activity Of Reventador remained at a moderate level, tonight the thermal camera showed lava flows all around the visible part of the volcano, which I have not seen as long as there has been a thermal image available.
Hey agimarc, Did You Feel It? an M 6.2 in Willow, Alaska, at 104 km depth. Shouldn’t have done any damage, I hope, being so deep.
Howdy Granyia –
I was in the backyard pulling weeds. Rattled things nicely. 121 km WNW ANC. Depth of 115 km. Strongly felt from ANC to FAI. No injuries or damage that I know of as yet. First one I felt outside. Cheers –
Forgot the link. Cheers –
Ah, dowgraded to 5.8. That’s beween two faults, and roughly near Spurr volcano….
First one of these I’ve felt outside. Could hear the wooden fence and houses creak a bit as they rolled. Kind of a funky feeling when everything moves for a bit. Instinctively look up to make sure that nothing is going to fall on me. Location pretty close to our 6.2 a couple months ago. Much closer to Hayes than Spurr. Cheers –
Smithsonian GVP weekly for 17 – 23 June 2015 is up. Cheers –
Sinabung had a a particularly bad eruption at 16:00 loc. time this afternoon, withs an eruption column rising to 5 km and pyroclastic flow going 4.5 km to the SE:
Photo ThegerBM via Twitter
The town of Berastagi got pitch dark in the afternoon…
Did you hear anything about volcano Wolf and the wildlife around it?
Haven’t really heard anything other than the volcano was still erupting. The new MODIS image for today seems not to be in yet, or it has stopped since yesterday. The previous one was this:
You can quick-check them here: http://volcams.malinpebbles.com/pubweb/S-Amerika.htm#EC
A clear day at Asamayama (Japan), it is still steaming heavily:
Check the live cam on YT; they occasionally zoom in to the action
The above and other cams here:
A new post is up! 🙂
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