Scientific Colloquium
March 29, 2017, 3:30 p.m.

"Oases for Life in Distant Oceans: On Earth and Beyond?"  

This talk will focus on how a series of continuously evolving science questions, spanning from geophysics to biogeography to astrobiology, have motivated a sustained body of work to explore the ocean floor for submarine venting. Seafloor hydrothermal activity is now known to occur in all ocean basins and at all spreading rates. While early work suggested that most venting should coincide with where the most magmatic activity occurs, along Earth’s fastest spreading sections of Mid-Ocean Ridge, I will show how continuing robotics-based exploration of Earth’s slower spreading ridges have revealed a greater geologic diversity of conditions for seafloor fluid flow than previously anticipated, with societal relevance ranging from the future of seafloor mining to the prospects for habitability of other Ocean Worlds. I will close with a discussion of future directions – both scientific (where else might life-sustaining seafloor fluid flow arise?) and technologic (what new methodologies might one might employ, blending autonomy with humans-in-the-loop, via telepresence?).

About the Speaker:

Chris German, born in the UK, went to Cambridge in 1981 planning to become a chemical engineer but emerged with a BA in Geological Sciences (1984) and a PhD in Chemical Oceanography (1988) instead. Somewhere along the way, he learned about a new discovery called submarine venting and headed to the US (for the first time) as a NATO Post-Doctoral Fellow to study with Prof John Edmond at MIT who took him on his first Alvin dives to the seafloor. In 1990, Chris returned to the UK to take up a position at what is now the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton. Over the next 15 years he pioneered the exploration for hydrothermal activity along Earth’s slowest spreading ridges, from the Atlantic into the Indian Oceans, using a combination of ocean chemistry and seafloor remote sensing – first with deep-towed instruments and then with autonomous underwater vehicles. In 2005, Chris returned to the US, to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to take up the position of Chief Scientist for Deep Submergence. Over his 9 year term, he oversaw the largest upgrade of the Alvin submersible in its 50 year history and the migration of autonomous vehicles into the National Deep Submergence Facility. Since returning to research full time in 2014, he has continued to push the exploration of Earth’s deep ocean floor (for example, as a member of NOAA’s Ocean Exploration advisory board), and also to prepare for exploration elsewhere, (for example, by helping develop a then field-testing a new lightly tethered hybrid robot that can be used for remote exploration of ice-covered oceans).

Career awards include:
2000 Royal Institution (UK) - Scientist for the New Century Award
2000 International Lithosphere Panel – Edward A Flinn Award (early career)
2000 Challenger Society for Marine Science (UK) - Fellow
2002 HM Queen Elizabeth II (UK) – MBE medal
2014 Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany) – Science Award
2015 The Explorers Club (US) - Fellow

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