Unknown World Of Volcanic Underwater Activity
At Loki’s Castle In The Arctic Ocean

5 August, 2013

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Follow us: - At Loki’s Castle in the Arctic Ocean, researchers from the University of Bergen (UiB), Norway have discovered a so far unknown world of volcanic activity underwater.

In 2008, UiB researchers discovered Loki’s Castle, a field of five active hydrothermal vents on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Norway and Greenland at 73°N. The field contains rich metal deposits and a unique wildlife.

This summer a team led by the director of UiB’s Centre for Geobiology, Professor Rolf Birger Pedersen, discovered five new hydrothermal vents in Loki’s Castle. The vents were discovered at depths ranging from 100 to 2,500 metres.

UiB researchers have found 20 new animal species in the volcano areas that they discovered this summer. These animals live off the heat caused by the hydrothermal vents in the area. Foto: Senter for geobiologi, UiB

In this area, which is the most geological active part of Norway, a new volcanic seabed is formed at a rate of two centimeters a year.

Researchers have recently presented their research and new and unique video recordings of Norway’s unknown volcanoes, at the Ministry of Enironment to discuss certainenvironmental protections for this unique area.

“These discoveries are incredibly interesting as they represent a part of the Norwegian nature that is under-explored. They represent a part of nature where conditions are extreme and where we expect to find a lot of new and exciting biology,” UiB spokesman Dag Rune Olsen said.

“At the Ministry of the Environment will start work to consider more carefully how to take care of these areas in the best way possible.

Norway is a volcanic country on par with Iceland. The difference being that whereas Iceland’s volcanoes are onshore, Norway’s volcano landscape is in the deep sea.

Norway’s volcanoes are lined up underwater in large active earthquake zones, and there are hydrothermal vents churning out hot water – at 320 degrees Celsius – which gives rise to unique ecosystems and metal deposits on the seabed.

Click on image to enlarge

A polar projection map showing the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge north of Iceland and the location of the Loki's Castle vent field (red dot). The map also shows the locations of the vent fields within the Atlantic and the Pacific ocean hosting vent endemic fauna belonging to different biogeographic provinces: white, Mid-Atlantic Ridge; yellow, Azores; orange, Western Pacific; green, North-East Pacific

UiB’s Centre for Geobiology is Norway’s leading deep-ocean research environment. For the past ten years, researchers and students from the centre have explored this volcanic underwater world.

Through their summer expeditions to the area, they have discovered new Norwegian nature every year.

Click on image to enlarge

Underwater creaturesat the Loki's Castle vent field.

(a) Siboglinid tubeworms (S. contortum) associated with low-temperature diffuse venting at the flank of the hydrothermal mound. White microbial mats and small barite chimneys in the back. (b) Close-up of the siboglinid tube worms in front of white microbial mats. Note the dense populations of small gastropods (P. griegi and Skenea sp.) on the tubes. The scale bar is 5 cm. (c) Amphipods (Melitidae sp. nov.) on a chimney wall. (d) Close-up of a ~1.5 cm juvenile Melitid amphipod. (e) Scanning electron microscopic image of chemoautotrophic gill symbionts from the Melitid amphipod (the scale bar is 3 ?m). Based on 16S rDNA clone libraries, the two most abundant sequences are affiliated with a gamma proteobacterium, known as a sulphur oxidizer in the bivalve Anodontia fragilis, and sequences with 98% similarity to an uncultured Methylococcaceae known as a methanotrophic ectosymbiont on the vent crab Shinkaia crosnieri. (f) Small gastropods (P. griegi) populating a chimney wall, with an individual shown as an inset picture (~3 mm across).

In this period they have surveyed hundreds of undersea volcanoes and a number of hydrothermal vents. Loki’s Castle, Soria Moria and Trollveggen are the names given to the hydrothermal vents discovered by the UiB researchers in 2005 and 2008.

The researchers believe that Loki’s Castle could become a Norwegian national park on the seabed, not unlike Yellowstone in the United States or Iceland’s geysers.

Lokeslottet from UiB - Universitetet i Bergen on Vimeo.

The UiB researchers see that there could be future conflicts of interest if such a national park is to be established. They have found significant metal deposits that are formed around the hydrothermal vents in Loki’s Castle.

The material value of these deposits remains unknown, but the mining industry is already showing a growing interest in exploiting these resources on the seabed. Deep-ocean mining could become a reality in the not too distant future.

The distinctive wildlife in the deep seas, with the hydrothermal vents as oases of a unique genetic life, means that any industrial activity must be weighed against environmental concerns.

Based on their knowledge, the UiB researchers are thus proposing that deep-marine nature parks should be established as soon as possible. This is of particular importance for Norway, with vast deep-sea areas to manage. This management must be based on scientific knowledge.

“It is our opinion that this area is so unique that it should be preserved. We are talking about very vulnerable environments,” Professor Pedersen said and pointed out that research also needs to create more knowledge about the wildlife in the area.

“It would represent a new way of preservation thinking if a national park was to be linked to Loki’s Castle,” Rector Olsen said.

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