Irish launch expedition to map a new ecosystem on the Atlantic sea floorJoe O'Shaughnessy

Scientists from the UCC, NUI Galway, the Geological Survey of Ireland and the University of Southampton, accompanied by a crew from National Geographic have set sail on one the most challenging research expeditions ever undertaken by Ireland.

Their 25-day voyage, aboard the ship the "Celtic Explorer", will cover 1,000 miles (1,610km) and look at the sea floor 3,000m (9,800 ft) below the surface at a latitude of 45 degrees north.

According to reports in the Irish Times this new eco-system, first detected by British scientists three years ago, is located on the mid-Atlantic ridge. It is a 16,000km-long mountain range that stretches from the Arctic to southern Africa. It is located about halfway between Iceland and the Azores.

NUIG biologist Patrick Collins said this is the "most technically challenging marine research ever undertaken by Ireland”.
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The area is filled with hydrothermal vents, cracks in the Earth's surface, which are usually found in volcanically active areas such as Yellowstone National Park, in North America.

David Attenborough's BBC documentary series "Blue Planet" illustrated the enormous volumes of water which are being pump out of the ocean floor. This water mixed with the fissure, chimneys or as they are sometimes called "black smokers" teem with life. The chemicals being emitted dissolved together and a new bacteria has developed with a food chain independent of sunlight.

A remotely operated vehicle called "Holland 1" will film the hydrothermal system. Also a separate examination of the cold-water coral will take place. The Moira Mound is already a designated area of conservation on the Porcupine Seabight.

National Geographic are aboard to document the expedition. The event will be broadcast as part of its Oceanus television series in 2012.