NOAA 2004-018
Contact: Fred Gorell

NOAA News Releases 2004
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Interactive Site Combines Discovery, Science and Computer Animation

Ocean science researchers and explorers have been on NOAA’s voyage of discovery to the deep-ocean hydrothermal vents of Magic Mountain – and now you can join them virtually with just a few clicks on your computer, putting you on an interactive mission to investigate the Earth’s Submarine Ring of Fire. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department.

To explore the seafloor hot springs and unusual life forms of the Magic Mountain Chimney Fields, visit NOAA’s Ocean Explorer Web site:, and click on the link to Magic Mountain.

“This Web site experience harnesses the excitement of ocean discovery,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The visitor becomes a virtual member of the exploration team – controlling the movements of a deep-sea remotely operated vehicle to hyperthermal vents never before explored.”

NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) developed the video and animation framework for the interactive Web experience based on a 2002 mission. NOAA explored the Submarine Ring of Fire again in 2003 along the Mariana volcanic arc in the western Pacific, and a follow-up mission is scheduled for March/April 2004.

Magic Mountain is a hydrothermal vent site on Explorer Ridge in the northeast Pacific Ocean, about 150 miles west of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Explorer Ridge is a spreading center where two tectonic plates are spreading apart and submarine volcanoes erupt.

The interactive Web experience helps visitors see what this spectacular area really looks like without having to travel to the seafloor. Users can visit chimney fields within the Magic Mountain vent site via a series of computer animations and videos. The animations are based on actual scientific observations at the site.

Click on an area of the map to view a virtual fly-through and panorama of each of four chimney fields – Zoo, Merlin, Mystic and Majestic. After the file has loaded, a fly-thru movie will lead you to a 360-degree panorama. To look in any direction within the panorama, click and drag your mouse inside the movie window, and to view video clips, click on chimneys, underwater vehicles or animals within the panorama. The audio accompanying some video clips features the excited words of scientists as they view the images for the first time. One chimney, named Recordbreaker, was more than 40 feet tall and vented water that was more than 570 degrees Fahrenheit.

The volcanic activity at Explorer Ridge brings heat near the surface and creates seafloor hot springs, called hydrothermal vents. The hot spring fluids contain dissolved chemicals that build mineralized chimneys and nourish an unusual ecosystem of microbes and animals that flourish in this hostile environment.

The Magic Mountain hydrothermal vent site was discovered in the early 1980s with the Canadian PISCES IV submersible, but was not fully explored until the 2002 Submarine Ring of Fire Expedition when more than 50 individual vents were explored. That mission was led by NOAA’s PMEL and by Canadian scientists funded by the Canadian National Science and Engineering Research Council. The interdisciplinary team used new seafloor mapping systems on the research vessel Thomas G. Thompson operated by the University of Washington, two underwater vehicles, the Autonomous Benthic Explorer (ABE) operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science (ROPOS), operated by the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility in Sydney, British Columbia.

ROPOS was attached to the research vessel by a fiber optic cable and was controlled by a pilot on the ship. The cable provided power and communication to ROPOS and allowed live video and other data to be sent back to the ship. ROPOS is well equipped to explore deep-sea environments. It can dive nearly three miles and has a variety of sampling equipment including two video cameras, two robotic arms for taking samples of rocks or organisms, bottles for collecting water samples, a “biobox” for collecting biological samples, a suction sampler that can “vacuum” up sediments and organisms, and a specialized water sampler for hydrothermal fluids. All those capabilities were used during the expedition to Magic Mountain on Explorer Ridge.

The Submarine Ring of Fire Program is exploring underwater volcanoes around the Pacific rim. Volcanic ridges lying as close as 60 nautical miles of the northwest U.S. and Canada are part of the world-girdling Mid-Ocean Ridge system, a 60,000 km long series of seafloor spreading centers where new earth is born. The Mid-Ocean Ridge is the beginning of a giant conveyor belt where new ocean floor is welded to giant moving plates that are ultimately recycled at volcanic island arcs and deep-ocean trenches.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.
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