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Deep-sea hydrothermal vents (or hot springs) are home to extraordinary, highly-specialised marine animals, adapted in a variety of ways to obtaining their energy from the chemicals that these vents emit. While the sharp temperature gradients, unstable, and toxic conditions typical of hydrothermal vents can make them challenging habitats for marine life, the ready food supply provides a strong incentive for adapting to vents. The majority of Earth’s hydrothermal vents are difficult to access as they are found at over 2 km water depth, however, off the northern coast of Iceland in Eyjafjörður, hydrothermal vents occur at a depth of just 15-70 metres. These vents thus interact with shallow-water marine communities, providing hard substrate for sessile fauna, but it is largely unknown if they influence these marine communities further through the heat and chemicals that they release. Their situation within Arctic marine waters also makes them ideal for investigating the effect of rising ocean temperatures on polar marine fauna. The main vent chimney, known as Strýtan, was originally discovered by fishermen and since 1997 has been frequently visited by SCUBA divers. While the fauna of this region has been inventoried through the BIOICE project (Benthic Invertebrates of Icelandic waters, 1991–2004), a detailed investigation of the communities associated with these chimneys is yet to be performed. This is greatly needed in order to gain insights into the effects of these chimneys on Arctic shallow marine life, as well as to inform management of this unique site - the chimneys are a protected area currently experiencing increasing visitation pressure from a variety of groups.
In June 2019, we performed extensive SCUBA-dive sampling and remotely-operated video surveys of marine fauna associated with the Strýtan and Arnarnesstrýtur vent chimneys in Eyjafjörður, Iceland. Additional comparative samples were also collected from nearby non-vent sites. This project will use the above data to perform a combined morphological and molecular taxonomic characterisation of the fauna associated with Iceland’s shallow water vents.
The student will work at the Natural History Museum under the supervision of Dr Magdalena Georgieva and Dr Adrian Glover, to identify collected samples and explore their zonation along the vent chimneys. The genetic component of this project (DNA extraction, amplification and sequencing) will be performed within the molecular laboratories of the Natural History Museum. There may also be an opportunity for the student participate in shallow-water marine biological fieldwork during an annual lab summer expedition off the Plymouth coast.
Marteinsson, V. T., Kristjánsson, J. K., Kristmannsdóttir, H., Dahlkvist, M., Sæmundsson, K., Hannington, M., ... & Stoffers, P. (2001) Discovery and description of giant submarine smectite cones on the seafloor in Eyjafjordur, northern Iceland, and a novel thermal microbial habitat. Appl. Environ. Microbiol., 67(2), 827-833.
Omarsdottir, S., Einarsdottir, E., Ögmundsdottir, H. M., Freysdottir, J., Olafsdottir, E. S., Molinski, T. F., & Svavarsson, J. (2013) Biodiversity of benthic invertebrates and bioprospecting in Icelandic waters. Phytochemistry Reviews, 12(3), 517-529.