Science Seminars

Deep-sea Hydrothermal Vents: Cradles of Life on Earth, and Maybe Elsewhere?

Speaker: Tom McCollum (CU/LASP)
Date: Thursday, Sep 17, 2020
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: Zoom

Seminar Abstract:

Ever since deep-sea hydrothermal vents were first discovered in the mid-1970s, they have been thought of as a candidate site for the origin of life on Earth and as potential analogs for habitable environments elsewhere in our solar system, including on the icy moons Europa and Enceladus. One of the key reasons that hydrothermal vents are highly favorable sites for life is that fluid-rock interactions in the subsurface generates chemical compounds such as molecular hydrogen and methane that microorganisms can exploit as metabolic energy sources, even in the absence of photosynthetic input. I will provide a brief overview my research conducted over the last couple of decades to investigate the formation of hydrogen, methane, and abiotic organic compounds in hydrothermal systems, which has involved a combination of field studies, laboratory experiments, and theoretical modeling. The presentation will highlight videos from our most recent scientific cruise to the world’s deepest known hydrothermal vents on the Mid-Cayman rise that took place in January/February of this year, which was fortunately the last research cruise to be completed on the R/V Atlantis prior to COVID.Ever since deep-sea hydrothermal vents were first discovered in the mid-1970s, they have been thought of as a candidate site for the origin of life on Earth and as potential analogs for habitable environments elsewhere in our solar system, including on the icy moons Europa and Enceladus. One of the key reasons that hydrothermal vents are highly favorable sites for life is that fluid-rock interactions in the subsurface generates chemical compounds such as molecular hydrogen and methane that microorganisms can exploit as metabolic energy sources, even in the absence of photosynthetic input. I will provide a brief overview my research conducted over the last couple of decades to investigate the formation of hydrogen, methane, and abiotic organic compounds in hydrothermal systems, which has involved a combination of field studies, laboratory experiments, and theoretical modeling. The presentation will highlight videos from our most recent scientific cruise to the world’s deepest known hydrothermal vents on the Mid-Cayman rise that took place in January/February of this year, which was fortunately the last research cruise to be completed on the R/V Atlantis prior to COVID.