Welcome Oregon Coast Aquarium's Oceanscape Network!

Oceanscape Networks Virtual expedition to Axial Seamount

Send us your questions with email to:
(Let us know where you are from!)

Throughout the expedition, questions and answers we receive will appear on this page. On the right, there are links to specific sites we will interact with from sea.

Questions and Answers: 

Question from Dylan:
My name is Dylan Sandall and recently you Skyped with my school, Chrysalis Charter School, and have raised a question in my mind: could you create a diet that could sustain a human based on just bacteria or micro organisms that live in or near the hydro thermal vents of Axial Seamount? If not, what if you included animals? What about plants?
Thanks, Dylan

Hi Dylan,
This turned into a really fun question for us (mostly the biologists led us through the calculations, but we all had fun talking about it!).

First we talked about what microbes you could consume safely. Most heterotrophs (the microbes that eat other microbes) would be fine, as would the ones that process hydrogen or methane but you'd have to watch out for the microbes that produce iron or sulfur, which would taste bad and could be toxic. We thought about the nutritional value and the microbes are full of protein, have many vitamins and some sugars.

Our next task was to try to predict how much microbial material you would need to eat. Based on a 2000 calorie diet, we figured you would need to eat about 6 pounds of microbes, which we think would be the same as about 1 1/2 gallons.

Thanks for the great question, I learned a lot and the biologists had a great time figuring this out too!

Axial Seamount 2015 Expedition

Question from Scott's (with Jason) dad:
One question: if the Cascadia subduction zone shifts along its entire length, 700mi, @ +9-10 will the forces generated trigger the Yellowstone caldera, which is now some years overdue?

Thanks for your dad's question.
A major earthquake along the Cascadia subduction zone could certainly be catastrophic but is not likely to have an impact on volcanic activity at Yellowstone. There have been isolated cases where tectonic earthquakes have affected magmatic systems, but in those cases, the volcanoes were on the "verge" of erupting already, and the earthquake served as a final "trigger". We don't think that's the case at Yellowstone, where the magmatic system is well monitored and shows no signs of imminent eruption. The last major eruption there was approximately 640,000 years ago but there have been major Cascadia earthquakes since then, (e.g. in January of 1700 there was a Magnitude 8.7-9.2 earthquake, which generated the "Orphan Tsunami" in Japan) with no effect at Yellowstone. The recurrence interval that is sometimes quoted as somewhere between 600,000-800,000 years for a major eruption at Yellowstone is based on just 3 eruptions, so the data set is pretty small (but admittedly, is the best we have).

Thanks again for the question!
Rachel Axial Seamount 2015 Expedition

Oregon Coast Aquarium: Oceanscape questions

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Questions from the Oregon Coast Aquarium's Oceanscape Network's virtual expedition:

Another question from Bud:
Rachel – one more question (for now), pertaining to the distribution of the Siboglinid tube worms at the vents. Adult specimens seem to show up fairly quickly at new hydrothermal activity; the question is how and in what form? I assume the “pioneers” are in some form of larval stage that is carried by deep subsurface currents – is this correct? Plus, they must possess extreme tolerances of very cold temperatures of currents to very hot temperatures at the vents, yes? Their taxonomy is also intriguing; one might think that given their extreme circumstances of depth and temperature, there would be little impetus for diversity – is anyone looking at this?

Hi Bud, Thanks again for your question! I had to ask around about this some of the parts of your question, but here's the scoop. The tubeworms are sessile so only move during their larval stages as plankton. They have a "food sack" that helps them survive until they get the right chemical and biological cues to attach to hydrothermal vent areas where they metamorphose. Their lifestyles certainly require them to survive at a wide range of temperatures, probably from 2°C in the open water to around 30°C at the vents. You're right, the diversity of these worms is fairly limited, with 1-2 species at vents of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, which are different from the few species in the East Pacific Rise, but the are not found in the south-west Pacific or on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) study the tube worms, you can find more information here: I hope this helps, and thank you again for your questions! Rachel Axial Seamount 2015 Expedition

Thanks again for your question, please write again!
Rachel Axial Seamount 2015 Expedition

Question from Bud:
Does volcanic activity along the Cascadia ridge increase or lessen the inevitability of a major earthquake within the Cascadia Subduction Zone? (E.g., is it acting as a "relief valve" in any way?) Since the volcanoes of the Cascade Range were created by deep subduction zone magmatic activity, what's creating the Axial Seamount at the very edge of the subduction zone? Could the Axial activity be the harbinger of an offshore island or continuation of continent building?

Hi Bud,
Thanks for your question.
As it turns out, we just posted a blog from Aug 20th on this very topic. In short, the volcanic activity at Axial Seamount does not affect earthquakes or volcanism along the Cascade arc. Axial is located on the western edge of the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Cascade arc is the boundary between the North American Plate and the eastern edge of the Juan de Fuca Plate, nearly 400 km away. You're right, the volcanoes of the Cascades arc are the result of magma generated from subduction, but here on the western edge of the Juan de Fuca Plate, which is a divergent plate boundary where magma rises to the surface and two plates spread apart - in this case the Juan de Fuca plate moves to the east and the Pacific Plate moves to the east. The cross section (side view) diagram in the blog post shows a nice representation of these relationships ( Axial Seamount is also a hot spot, similar to Hawaii, where a large volume of magma rises in the mantle and erupts on the surface of the ocean floor. It is unlikely that Axial Seamount will build a structure that emerges above sea level. Because it is located at the divergent plate boundary, as Axial Seamount grows, the plates are also moving apart, essentially transporting part of the edifice away. Of course all of these processes happen at geologic timescales (e.g. cm per year).

Thanks again for your question, please write again!
Rachel Axial Seamount 2015 Expedition
Question from Chris:
 I read recently where sharks were discovered swimming in volcanic vents in the South Pacific Ocean. Are there any sharks who live around Axial sea mount volcano?

 Hi Chris
 Thanks for your question. We haven't seen sharks at the hydrothermal vents at Axial Seamount, but we do see crabs, octopi, tube worms, and other organisms. Here's a link to a photo gallery of animals that have been seen at Axial Seamount:
Thanks again for your question and stay in touch!
Rachel Axial Seamount 2015

Question from Kelly: I'm enjoying reading about your adventure at sea but wanna know if you are scared to be that close to a volcano? What happens to the ship if it erupts while you're there? Thank you, Kelly

Hi Kelly,
Thanks for your question. An eruption from Axial Seamount would certainly be an exciting thing to observe, but there is very low probability that it will erupt again while we’re here. Prior to 2015, Axial erupted in 1998 and 2011 so at a fairly long interval – in human timescales at least. Axial Seamount is too deep to have an impact on the ship because it is more than 1500 m (~4400 ft) below us. There have been rare cases (in other parts of the world) where an eruption occurred while the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Jason was working on the seafloor, but because the water pressure is so high at this depth, the explosivity of the eruption is minimized and Jason was able to move out of the way, and actually able to record video of the eruption!

Here’s a link to the news of that eruption (West Mata volcano in the south Pacific Ocean) where you can also see some video.

Question from Trey:
Where does one go to learn how to work underwater ROVs like Jason?

Hi Trey.
 Thanks for your question.
The Jason group operate the ROV Jason (and Medea) as well as other submersibles like the manned submersible, Alvin. The team of pilots and engineers of the Jason group work for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) where they go through a training program to learn about the vehicles and how they work, including the electrical and mechanical systems and more. Most of the Jason group pilots have backgrounds in mechanical or electrical engineering or computer science before they enter the training program. As they learn more about the vehicle, they go through the three different jobs as dive engineer, navigator, and finally pilot. This training process generally takes a few years.
Thanks for your question! Rachel

Question from Megan:
Amazing! Thank you for all the hard work you all do! I'm curious, does this make the ocean warmer and how does it change the quality for marine life?

Hi Megan,
 Thanks for your question, the heat escaping from the lava flows goes into the water adjacent to the flows, and that water will circulate around the lavas at about 50 °C (~120 °F) hotter than unaffected water. Hotter water is more buoyant so will rise, but will eventually it will mix with cold seawater and the heat will dissipate. The net temperature change is probably undetectable as the volume of sea water far exceeds the volume that might be heated by the lava flows. The warm water doesn’t affect organisms that can swim away or things like crabs could likely crawl out of the way of lavas (but probably not all of them do so). Of course the organisms that live on the vents thrive on newly created vents. An interesting biological aspect to submarine eruptions is that a bloom of high temperature microbial organisms is emitted from hydrothermal vents long after the eruption. The microbes emissions look like snow blowers and other microbes cover the lava flows as they cool.

Thanks again for your question!
Rachel 2015 Axial Seamount Expedition