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Divergent Plate Boundaries in the Oceans

Plates diverging in the oceans leads to seafloor spreading and on a continent leads to continental rifting.

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Underwater Unknown
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Discovering the Unknown Underwater

Why It Matters

Take a look at the photo below. Have you ever seen anything like this? Would you think that a creature like this lived on Earth?

Organisms like this have been found very recently in the deep ocean near mid-ocean ridges. Because of the very different conditions and limiting factors, these organisms look very different from anything that we would ever imagine existing on our planet.

In the following clip from the movie, Aliens of the Deep, James Cameron works with scientists to explore and document these deep sea species.

When scientists first dove in Alvin and witnessed hydrothermal vents, they were not surprised by the eruptions of hot water. But they never anticipated finding life there. Without sunlight, they knew that photosynthesis could not be the basis of this community. Eventually they discovered a different way of producing food, chemosynthesis. Many more hydrothermal vents were discovered and many more types of vent organisms.

How is this directly tied to plate tectonics? Would you expect to find these deep sea ecosystems all over the ocean floor?

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  1. If you were a scientist looking for new populations of species in the deep sea, where would you look next? Use this plate boundary map to identify where the divergent plate boundaries are located. Make http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange1/current/lectures/evolving_earth/tectonic_map.jpg Make a prediction for where the next major discovery of new deep sea organisms will take place.
  2. The volcanic activity at divergent plate boundaries creates hydrothermal vents that are responsible for much of the exciting new discoveries of life on our planet. As http://oceantoday.noaa.gov/underwatervolcanoes/welcome.html As we explore other planets for life, how could our new scientific knowledge connecting plate tectonics to chemosynthetic rooted ecosystems change the criteria that we are searching for?

Resources Cited

Aliens of the Deep You Tube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me-Mx3JIGDk&feature=related

University of Michigan http://www.globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange1/current/lectures/evolving_earth/evolving_earth_ext.html

National Ocean Service http://oceantoday.noaa.gov/underwatervolcanoes/welcome.html

Connections to other CK-12 Subject Areas

Earth Science

  • Modern Biodiversity (SCI.ESC.746.3.L.1)
  • Biological Communities (SCI.ESC.811.L.1)
  • Ocean Ecosystems (SCI.ESC.830.L.1)
  • Population Size (SCI.ESC.850.2.L.1)
  • Ocean Zones (SCI.ESC.540.L.1)

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