Silent witnesses

How geochemistry tells about climate and environments


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NASA: Extreme shrimp may hold clues to alien life

fox13now.com

Shrimp crawling around rock chimneys spewing hot water deep in the Caribbean Sea may hold clues to the kinds of life that can thrive in extreme environments on other planets, NASA says.

The shrimp are called Rimicaris hybisae (no, we can’t pronounce it either). They live in clumps on hydrothermal vents 7,500 feet underwater, where temperatures reach 750 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s very, very dark.

The water near the vents is cool enough for the shrimp to live in. The very hot water spewing from the vents is where their dinner is cooked.

The shrimp dine on carbohydrates produced by bacteria living inside the vents. So what does that have to with space aliens? If these bacteria can survive in these extreme conditions of Earth, maybe it can happen on other worlds, such as Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which has a subsurface ocean.

“For two-thirds of the Earth’s history, life…

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Extreme Shrimp May Hold Clues to Alien Life

Emma Versteegh

Shrimp called Rimicaris hybisae at deep hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean seem to have different dietary habits depending on the proximity of other shrimp. Those who live in dense clusters like this one live off bacteria primarily, but in areas where the shrimp are distributed more sparsely, the shrimp are more likely to turn carnivorous, and even eat each other. Credit: Courtesy Chris German, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason ©2012 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Shrimp called Rimicaris hybisae at deep hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean seem to have different dietary habits depending on the proximity of other shrimp. Those who live in dense clusters like this one live off bacteria primarily, but in areas where the shrimp are distributed more sparsely, the shrimp are more likely to turn carnivorous, and even eat each other. Credit: Courtesy Chris German, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason ©2012 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

At one of the world’s deepest undersea hydrothermal vents, tiny shrimp are piled on top of each other, layer upon layer, crawling on rock chimneys that spew hot water. Bacteria, inside the shrimps’ mouths and in specially evolved gill covers, produce organic matter that feed the crustaceans.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are studying this mysterious ecosystem in the Caribbean to get clues about what life could be like on other planetary bodies…

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Santa Cruz

Earlier this month I gave a seminar at the University of California Santa Cruz, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, in their Whole Earth Seminar series. A very enjoyable experience. Their campus is a redwood forest, and the people were very welcoming and interested. Though, I maybe should have talked about shells instead of hydrothermal vents, as that was apparently how they stumbled upon my work.


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The world’s deepest hydrothermal vents: An analog for Europa?

Two weeks ago a group of students from the University of Southern California visited JPL. They all did a summer program in ocean sciences. I was one of the people telling them what “real” ocean scientists do at JPL.


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Ocean Sunfish

It hasn’t much to do with geochemistry, but everything with my fascination for the oceans and what lives in them.

The ocean sunfish as pictured by Adriaen Coenen (http://www.kb.nl/bladerboek/visboek/browse-en/page_150r.html).

The ocean sunfish as pictured by Adriaen Coenen (http://www.kb.nl/bladerboek/visboek/browse-en/page_150r.html).

The first time my eye was caught by the ocean sunfish, was leafing through a book full of real and fictitious sea monsters by Adriaen Coenen. I bought a copy, and started reading everything about these weirdest of creatures. Also, it became top of my bucket list of animals to see, preferably while diving. Then a few weeks ago I visited Monterey Bay Aquarium and, when entering the Open Sea exhibit, just cried:”An ocean sunfish!” Such a cool and strange thing! It’s not the best of pictures, but here it is:

Ocean sunfish at Montery Bay Aquarium

Ocean sunfish at Montery Bay Aquarium

There is a web cam of the Open Sea exhibit, featuring lots more fascinating fish including massive tuna, where you can see the “swimming head” lazily drift by from time to time: