Deep-Sea News

The HACON Project and REV Ocean Create First Detailed Visual Survey of Aurora Vent Field in the Deep Arctic Ocean

At the Aurora hydrothermal vent field, 82.5N, and nearly 4km deep (13,000 ft), the HACON project successfully sampled rocks, fluids, sediments and fauna to improve understanding and functioning of the deep Arctic Ocean.

A multidisciplinary team of 28 scientists, including 6 experts from REV Ocean, has pushed the frontiers of knowledge for deep-sea researchers by sampling and filming one of Earth’s last remote and inaccessible environments deep below the permanent ice cover in the Arctic Ocean. Samples will help unravel the physical, geochemical and ecological processes that shape this unique area and allow researchers to assess if the fauna has evolved in isolation in the Arctic Ocean or if it is connected to other ocean basins.

EM1 blobid1 1634894896371HACON 2021 team photo. (Credit: REV Ocean)

The site was first detected 20 years ago and remained unexplored until expeditions in 2014 and 2019 revisited and confirmed the location with towed camera systems. The HACON 2021 cruise is the first time such a unique environment has been successfully explored and sampled beneath the permanent sea ice cover.

“In 2019, the team tried exceptionally hard to access the site, but we had really challenging, thick ice that prevented us from making extensive dives. The towed camera gave us a brief, exciting glimpse of the vents and made us extremely motivated to come back in 2021”, says Eva Ramirez-Llodra, Science Coordinator, REV Ocean.

From Sept 28 to Oct 21, the HACON 2021 expedition, led by CAGE/UiT (The Arctic University of Norway) and The Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) brought together a diverse and multi-national team aboard the icebreaker RV Kronprins Haakon to explore ‘black smoker’ hydrothermal vents in the high Arctic. The vents are called black smokers because of the dark, ‘smoke-like’, super-heated liquid (over 300o C) that emits from chimney-like structures.

In 2019 the HACON project made its first visit to the site, but due to technical and environmental challenges at the time, few results were achieved.

This time was different.

One of the main tools used for sampling the black smokers was a new Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), aptly named “Aurora”, provided by REV Ocean. This was the first time ROV Aurora was used, and with a strong team effort, made a total of 6 successful dives. Tremendous coordination from the ship’s Captain and Officers, science team, ROV pilots and crew, resulted in the first detailed visual survey and mapping of the Aurora Vent Field and collection of more than 100 visual, geological, geochemical, and biological samples.

EM2 image 45857167431634896750539 1634896751435ROV Aurora takes samples from the vent field. (Credit: REV Ocean)

The samples taken from high-temperature fluids, chimney rock, sediments, and fauna will now be analysed at laboratories in the partner institutes to better understand the composition of the vents and the oasis of life and mineral formations around them. The teams have already expressed high confidence of new discoveries and intend to submit a succession of articles in peer-reviewed academic journals in the coming years.

“REV Ocean´s priority is to create an ecosystem of multidisciplinary scientific collaboration. The HACON cruise is a great example of how to enable partnerships and collaboration across different areas of study, collectively work on scientific discoveries, and advance our understanding of the ocean. The scientific alliances formed using the “Aurora” ROV is exactly what REV Ocean aims for. I am excited to see how we can use this valuable information to advance the protection of, and solutions for, this critical habitat in the deep-sea”, says Nina Jensen, CEO, REV Ocean.

EM3 blobid3 1634895395591Location of the Aurora vent field at 82.5N, between Svalbard and Greenland. (Credit: HACON project)

Forty years after the first discovery of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, the HACON 2021 cruise has already added a wealth of visual material and physical samples of the different habitats on the seamount. The excellent collaborative atmosphere onboard facilitated the significant sharing of samples amongst the groups. These activities strengthened existing partnerships and established new ones amongst many of the teams from the different national and international institutions.

A key goal going forward is to use the results to work together on challenges and solutions related to Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems and Marine Protected Areas. This will result in new science provided to intergovernmental initiatives such as the UN conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Decade for Ocean Science.

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