Photo by Chris German, ©WHOI

Photo by Chris German, ©WHOI

The seafloor and its ecosystems are one of the last frontiers for exploration on planet Earth, simply because of their inaccessibility, often beneath over 3km of water. Using the Research Vessel Atlantis, the remotely operated submarine Jason II and the autonomous undersea vehicle Sentry we explored the Pito Deep in the Pacific Ocean, a deep chasm in the seafloor (2.5 times as deep as the Grand Canyon)! 

Pito Deep lies at the edge of the Easter Microplate, a small tectonic plate that is rotating like a ball bearing trapped between two overlapping arms of the East Pacific Rise. It’s one of the few places in the Pacific Ocean that exposes a cross section through oceanic crust which allowed us to explore, sample, and understand how oceanic crust is formed.  An additional objective of the cruise was to document the third dimension (depth) of the magnetic stripes found on the seafloor, critical for understanding plate tectonics.

We also searched for and found at least four previously undiscovered hydrothermal vents which are some of the most spectacular features found on the seafloor and are the host to chemosynthetic ecosystems within which organisms thrive in the darkness of the bottom of the ocean.