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Project Overview

 

Sea-Link at the surfaceSymbioses (the living together of two (or more) very different organisms) in marine environments occur widely from the ocean's depths to intertidal systems. This observation raises questions of how did these symbioses originate, how do they evolve, and why are certain types of symbiotic organisms so common in particular marine environments?

Answering some of these questions is the goal of this research cruise. Our cruise will be taking us to "hydrocarbon seeps" in the Gulf of Mexico. You can find an amazing community of organisms like tubeworms and clams when visiting a "hydrocarbon seep". This is surprising since oil and other strong chemicals are constantly leaking out of the seeps. So how do these animals survive and grow? The secret to their success is that they form symbioses with microscopic bacteria. These bacteria, which live inside of the bodies of the tubeworms and clams, take the oil and chemicals coming out of the seeps and change them into energy that their partners (the tubeworms and clams) can use to survive. This way of getting energy to live and grow at the dark bottom of the ocean is known as "chemosynthesis" and is different than "photosynthesis", which requires light to make energy.

Ship and Sub

To collect these tubeworms and clams (as well as the bacteria living inside of them) for study, we will need to use a ship and submersible to get to the "hydrocarbon seeps" at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Luckily, we have access to the R/V Seward Johnson (the ship) and the Johnson-Sea-Link (the submersible) for six days to conduct our work. During that time, we will be making 8 dives to the Louisiana Slope, which is south of the city of New Orleans. These dives will be about 4 hours long and take us to a depth of 1,800 - 2,400 feet (which is about the length of 7 football fields!!!). Please follow us on our map and videos of the collection cruise as well as see the organisms that we collect.