Icelandic drilling project sheds light on ‘black smokers’

Researchers from Stanford University, the University of Oregon, UC David and UC Riverside are hoping that research into hydrothermal land vents in the United States will enable them to learn more about deep-sea ‘black smokers’.

Black smokers are vents found on the ocean floor which eject superheated mineral-rich seawater. The vents are home to unique ecosystems which support living organisms from energy that does not derive from the sun.

Scientists are planning to sink a deep borehole into the land vent which is made up of seawater. This is unusual as the majority of hydrothermal land sites are filled with fresh water.

“It’s the dry land version of a deep sea hydrothermal vent,” said Robert Zierenberg, professor of geology at UC Davis. “It’s the first opportunity to look at rocks and fluid together and in situ.”

The research is part of the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project to explore the possibility of extracting energy from hydrothermal vents in the US. The project is a collaborative effort of the government and power industry of Iceland, as well as various government agencies from America.

The scientists plan to start drilling in the summer of 2008 with the help of the National Science Foundation and the International Continental Drilling Program.