NSF PR 01-66 - August 9, 2001
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On First Science Cruise Icebreaker Healy Steams
to Arctic to Study Crust Formation
Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation
(NSF) are sailing on the maiden scientific voyage
of the U.S. Coast Guard's newest icebreaker to study
one of the world's slowest growing oceanic ridges,
with an eye to understanding how the Earth's crust
The USCGC Healy, which is outfitted as a scientific
research vessel, will carry out the Arctic Mid-Ocean
Ridge Expedition (AMORE) from late July until early
October. The Healy will sail with the German research
vessel Polarstern to sample and study the Gakkel Ridge,
a little-known geologic feature in the Arctic Ocean.
The Gakkel Ridge occupies a unique and important place
within the global system of ocean ridges for several
reasons. It is the deepest and slowest spreading ridge.
It also is the only spot on the globe from which the
polar mantle, under the ocean, can be sampled directly.
Healy will use dredges to bring up rock samples from
the ridge. To date only two small samples have ever
been recovered from the 5000-meter (3.1- mile) deep
"We will recover volcanic rocks that we will analyze
chemically to learn more about mid-oceanic ridges
in general, including how the planet's oceanic crust
is created by seafloor spreading," said principal
investigator Peter J. Michael, professor of geosciences
at the University of Tulsa.
Along the mid-ocean ridge, volcanic material is added
to crustal plates that move away from each other.
The Gakkel Ridge is special because its seafloor-spreading
rate is about one centimeter (.39 inches) per year
-- the slowest on earth -- compared to other ridges
that spread at up to 18 centimeters (7 inches) annually.
Slow-spreading ocean ridges are a global rarity and
their mechanics are not well understood.
Forming the northern end of the Atlantic Ocean ridge
system, the Gakkel is one of the least-studied mid-ocean
ridges. Data collected by AMORE is expected to provide
a basic understanding of the makeup of Arctic Ocean
crust and its influence on Arctic Ocean chemistry.
The vessels will make the 800-mile voyage from Norway
to the edge of the ice cap in three days, traveling
at approximately 12 knots (13.8 mph). Once in the
ice, the vessels expect to average 3 knots (3.45 mph),
depending on thickness of the ice that needs to be
broken. The combination of the Healy and Polarstern
working together will enhance safety in the ice and
make for more efficient data gathering.
The permanent ice cover of the Arctic Ocean has previously
hindered study of the Gakkel Ridge. AMORE used data
collected by SCICEX, a joint exercise of the U.S.
Navy's Office of Naval Research and NSF in which submarines
have mapped large areas of the bottom of the Arctic
Ocean, to develop its sampling program, according
to AMORE researcher Henry Dick of the Woods Hole Oceanographic
"Scientists previously thought there was little volcanic
activity along the Gakkel Ridge, but information from
a 1999 submarine cruise indicates there may be an
isolated, very large megavolcano at the eastern end
of the ridge filling up the crack," he said.
AMORE also will host Michele Adams, a 7th grade science
teacher at Musselman Middle School in West Virginia.
Adams is a participant in NSF's Teachers Experiencing
the Arctic and Antarctic Program (TEA).
Other U.S. institutions involved in AMORE include the
Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University
and Oregon State University. German institutions include
Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Max-Planck
Institute in Mainz and the University of Bremen.
Editors: For information on available b-roll,
call Dena Headlee, 703-292-8070/ firstname.lastname@example.org
To read more about NSF's support of scientific logistics
in the Polar Regions, see
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute will post bulletins
from the Healy at sea at
To follow teacher Michele Adams' experiences, see
For more information about the Healy, see
For more information about SCICEX, see
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