Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics  with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Caitlin Klotz, makes this connection here…

An article entitled, “The Alien World of Deepwater Research” was written by Perrin Ireland on February 13, 2013 in an online exclusive by Discover Magazine. This article talks about the promising future of deepwater research to help piece together Earth’s history and apply the discoveries to future research. As scientists attempt to study the history, movement, and quality of these ancient seas, this article relates to the domain of hydrology. The main portion of the article discusses the discovery of a new ecosystem, about the size of the United States, found recently under the ice caps in the arctic. Bacteria life forms were found under these ice caps. It is unsure if they are of a new species, but scientists are able to say that these bacteria are surviving off of the sulfuric gases that are produced from the underwater decomposition of organic matter. The process of living off of these gases has been called a chemosynthetic life, in which species do not depend directly on sunlight (NOAA). A concern of several scientists is that these bacterial forms live in a stable environment and do not have the capability to survive the climate changes that are predicted to continue occurring (AWI).  The article by Ireland does not delve into this issue, rather points out that it is a potential problem. He does, however, discuss the problem of being able to do research in these conditions as he relates it to the task of deep space exploration, where modern technology limits us because of the frigid temperatures.  These challenges put researchers in a difficult, yet exciting position. In an attempt to remedy to these problems and gain real time information on the underwater conditions, a new observatory has been put in place at the top-most part of Canada to hopefully gain more useful information as to what is happening in this ecosystem. As Ireland relates these conditions to deep sea exploration, he vaguely touches on the idea that this research could be used to tell us more about space, in particular the ice formations found on Jupiter and Saturn. Although space exploration is not as pressing of an issue as climate change, this is the part of the article that I would have liked to know more information about- knowing what exactly this research can be applied to, in terms of deep space exploration.

Figure1. Images of Jupiter and Saturn

This article mainly touches on environment issues and the potential of this research in future endeavors. The environmental issue is the concern of how this fragile, newly discovered ecosystem will be affected by the rapid melting of the ice caps in the Polar Regions- 20% of the caps have melted since 1979.  There is also the potential for this research on deepwater ecosystems give scientists answers to many of the problems they are facing with the climate change. As the temperature of the Earth is warming and the habitat for this ecosystem is retreating, there is no doubt that the fragile life forms present in this environment will be affected (AWI). The effects of climate change can be shown in the melting ice caps and the destruction of the fragile life forms that call these frigid waters home.

Figure2. The Arctic ice caps are melting at a rapid rate


Boetius, A. “Biodiversity and Functioning of Polar Deep-sea Ecosystems.” Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) Deep-Sea Ecology.

Vogt, Peter. “Vent and Seep Communities on the Arctic Seafloow.” Arctic Theme Page. NOAA.

Ireland, Perrin. “The Alien World of Deepwater Research.” Discover Magazine. 13 Feb. 2013.