Oceanography The Official Magazine of
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Volume 28 Issue 01

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Volume 28, No. 1
Pages 160 - 173


The NOAA Vents Program 1983 to 2013: Thirty Years of Ocean Exploration and Research

By Stephen R. Hammond , Robert W. Embley, and Edward T. Baker  
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Two seminal advances in the late 1970s in science and technology spurred the establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Vents Program: the unexpected discovery of seafloor vents and chemosynthetic ecosystems on the Galápagos Spreading Center (GSC), and civilian access to a previously classified multibeam mapping sonar system. A small team of NOAA scientists immediately embarked on an effort to apply the new mapping technology to the discovery of vents, animal communities, and polymetallic sulfide deposits on spreading ridges in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. The addition of interdisciplinary colleagues from NOAA’s cooperative institutes at Oregon State University and the University of Washington led to the creation of the Vents Program in 1983 at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Within a decade, Vents surveyed the entire Juan de Fuca and Gorda Ridges for hydrothermal activity, discovered the first “megaplume,” established multiyear time series of hydrothermal fluid measurements, and, for the first time, acoustically detected and responded to a deep-sea volcanic eruption. With this experience, and partnering with researchers from around the globe, Vents expanded to exploration along the East Pacific and GSC divergent plate boundaries. In 1999, the Vents Program embarked on systematic surveys along volcanic arcs and back-arc basins of the Mariana and Kermadec-Tonga subduction zones. For three decades, the Vents Program focused on understanding the physical, chemical, and biological environmental consequences of global-scale processes that regulate the transfer of heat and mass from Earth’s hot interior into the ocean. As the fourth decade began, the Vents Program was restructured into two new programs, Earth-Ocean Interactions and Acoustics, that together continue, and broaden, the scope of Vents’ pioneering ocean exploration and research.


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