ChEsSo (Chemosynthetic Ecosystems of the Southern Ocean) is a consortium of scientists from several institutions including the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre, the British Antarctic Survey, the University of Oxford, the University of Newcastle, the Natural History Museum London and the University of Leeds. The scientists on board the RRS James Cook  for this expedition are a mixture of marine chemists and biologists, together with specialists in habitat mapping and data management. Each brings their own expertise to help resolve the bigger picture, which will be demonstrated as this blog develops.


We will examine several hydrothermal vent sites in the East Scotia Back-Arc basin complex including the East Scotia Ridge and the southern end of the South Sandwich Islands. This is a complex tectonic system, which is located in the Southern Ocean to the east of the southern tip of South America. This area is home to numerous chemosynthetic ecosystems including black smokers, white smokers and whale falls. The four sites we plan to visit are E2, E9, Kemp Caldera and Adventure Crater. (please refer to map on Science page)

See where the James Cook is now.


This expedition will begin on the 2nd December 2012 in Punta Arenas, Chile and end on the 5th January when the RRS James Cook  will dock in Montevideo, Uruguay.


The expedition will revisit the chemosynthetic sites previously discovered in the austral summers of 2009, 2010 and 2011 using the latest marine technology, including a state-of –the-art remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Isis. We plan to collect biological and chemical samples from each of the four sites that will be analysed to eventually help us to understand the biological and chemical processes underlying chemosynthetic ecosystems in the Southern Ocean as well as the biogeographical relationship with chemosynthetic ecosystems in other parts of the world’s oceans. Isis is a sophisticated mechanical and electronic underwater craft the size of a VW microbus tethered to the James Cook  by an umbilical fibre-optic cable. The control van on the RRS James Cook  is used to drive and control all the operations of the ROV including collection of video and photographs and biological and chemical samples. All our observations are made in real time.


Our investigations are crucial to enhancing our understanding of:
  • the chemical and physical processes underlying hydrothermal venting
  • the energy flow from the physical environment to and through the biological environment at vents
  • the diversity of these chemosynthetic ecosystems and whether any species are new to science
  • the food webs of Antarctic chemosynthetic ecosystems
  • microbial interactions both within metazoans and in the ambient environment
  • the connectivity of these Southern Ocean hydrothermal vents with other vents around the world
  • the connectivity of Southern Ocean whale falls with other whale falls around the world and whether taxa overlap with other chemosynthetic ecosystems like hydrothermal vents
Go to Impacts to find out more about why we're on this expedition.

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