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The MOST, Syracuse NY (map)
Topic: Volcanoes, Fault Zones, and Life in Extreme Environments: The Alien World of Mid-Ocean

Speaker: Jeffrey Karson, Department of Earth Sciences, Syracuse University
Although out of sight, more than a mile beneath the surface of the oceans, the world-encircling
seafloor mountain range known as the mid-ocean ridge system is the site of most of the
volcanic activity on Earth. Heat from seafloor volcanoes on mid-ocean ridges drives
“hydrothermal” fluid circulation through cracks in the crust beneath the seafloor. During this
circulation, chemical reactions cause changes in both seawater and the rocks of the oceanic
crust, changing the composition of seawater globally and creating mineral deposits on and
beneath the seafloor. Hydrothermal outflow at seafloor geysers provide the nutrients for exotic
life forms that have developed without sunlight and under the crushing pressure of the
overlying ocean. These features combine to create an other-worldly environment right on our
own planet that may be models for life on other planetary bodies.

Brief Biographic Sketch:

Jeffrey Karson is a Professor of Geology in the Department of Earth Sciences at Syracuse
University. His research focuses on fault zones and volcanic processes on the mid-ocean ridge
system, the world-encircling, seafloor mountain chain where lithosphere plates are pulled apart
and where most of the volcanic activity on Earth occurs. To better understand these processes,
he has conducted numerous investigations on the deep seafloor using small submarines,
remotely operated vehicles and autonomous vehicles. He has linked these studies to
investigations of on-land terranes where analogous processes can be studied in more detail, for
example, Iceland and the East African Rift System. He is the co-author of a comprehensive
overview of processes along the mid-ocean ridge system entitled “Discovering the Deep: A
Photographic Atlas of the Seafloor and Oceanic Crust” (2015, Cambridge University Press).
Professor Karson and sculptor Robert Wysocki are the co-founders of the Syracuse Lava Project,
for the study of lava flows similar to those erupted on mid-ocean ridges, Iceland, Hawaii, and
other planetary bodies.

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