NSF PR 99-55 - September 17, 1999
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Scientists Gather in Oregon to Decide Next Steps of
Mid-Ocean Ridge Exploration
More than 130 ocean scientists from the U.S. and overseas
will meet in Newport, Oregon, September 22-24, to
plan a new decade of research into the geology, chemistry
and biology of Earth's mid-ocean ridge system.
The conference, to be held at the Hatfield Marine Science
Center is hosted by the RIDGE (Ridge Interdisciplinary
Global Experiments) Program Office at Oregon State
University, and funded by the National Science Foundation.
"The goal of the RIDGE program is to understand the
geophysical, geochemical, and geobiological causes
and consequences of the energy transfer within the
global mid-ocean ridge system," says David Epp of
NSF's marine geology and geophysics program, which
The RIDGE Program began a decade ago when scientists
formally recognized a need for organized, interdisciplinary
research into the complex volcanic, hydrothermal,
and biological processes along the global mid-ocean
ridge system. Since that time, they have explored
more than ten thousand miles of previously unknown
ridge area, while numerous new and exciting discoveries
have increased the knowledge of deepocean hydrothermal
vents, their relationships to the organisms that are
nourished by them, and the volcanic and magmatic systems
in the Earth beneath them.
The globe-encircling mid-ocean ridge system marks the
boundary along which Earth's major plates form. The
nearest examples to the U.S. are the Gorda and Juan
de Fuca Ridges off Oregon, Washington and British
Columbia. The ridge system as a whole can be considered
as a single 35,000 mile-long volcano that transfers
massive amounts of heat and material from the Earth's
deep mantle to the ocean floor and the oceans themselves.
"More than 70 percent of the earth's present surface
-- almost the entire ocean floor -- has been created
along this volcanic system in only the last 100 million
years," explains David Christie, a scientist at Oregon
State who serves as chair of the RIDGE Steering Committee.
"If we think of the Earth as only 100 days old, more
than 70 percent of it has been resurfaced in only
the last four days."
At the lowest levels of the ridge ecosystem abundant
microbial populations are among the most primitive
life forms on our planet. Recognition of these forms
has prompted speculation that there are other parts
of the solar system, especially the moons of Jupiter,
that are capable of supporting similar life forms.
Scientists at the conference will identify opportunities
and priorities for multi-disciplinary research in
the next 5-10 years, building on recent successes
and taking advantage of new and emerging technological
For conference information, see: http://ridge.oce.orst.edu/meetings/RIDGE2000/