Geology & Geophysics News

Podcast: Rifts Beneath the Ocean Floor

In the latest episode of its Centennial series, AGU’s Third Pod from the Sun features the pioneering work of a deep-sea explorer.


Kathy Crane is a true adventurer. She initially wanted to become an astronaut, but as a woman and still about 2 decades from Sally Ride’s flight, she found that pathway closed to her. She changed course and earned a doctorate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1977. Crane was one of only a handful of women in the field of marine geophysics at the time.

She searched for the Titanic in the 1980s, and later joined an international team of U.S., Soviet, and Canadian scientists who explored the bottom of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. She authored the Arctic Environmental Atlas as well as her memoir, Sea Legs: Tales of a Woman Oceanographer.

What really put her on the map, so to speak, were her contributions to the discovery of hydrothermal vents on the Galápagos Rift along the East Pacific Rise in the mid-1970s. These vents are cracks in the crust of the deep-ocean floor where tectonic plates pull away or push toward one another, releasing hot magma that heats the cold seawater.

In this Centennial episode of Third Pod from the Sun, Crane recalls developing a temperature-monitoring instrument that attached to a seafloor towing system. Towing it along the Galápagos Rift revealed deep-sea temperature anomalies, as well as images of volcanic features—all of which helped prove the existence of hydrothermal vents. Plunging into some of the least explored parts of the Pacific Ocean aboard the submersible Alvin, she also discovered never before seen animal life—mussels, clams, and, most beautifully, tube worms—where it was once thought impossible, all of which led to the discovery of the biological process of chemosynthesis. Of the tube worms, Crane said “they looked like roses. Pristine white stems that were part of the worm, and they were fixed holdfast onto the basalt rocks below them. At the top was a head that was scarlet red with what looked like pink petals coming out, which is where it got all its nutrients.…Absolutely beautiful place.”

Throughout, she had to deal with scientists sabotaging each other, build tools that could withstand the deepest marine environments, and survive aboard rickety research vessels. This episode of Third Pod has it all!

—Joshua Speiser ([email protected]), Manager of Strategic Communications, AGU

Citation: Speiser, J. (2019), Podcast: Rifts beneath the ocean floor, Eos, 100, Published on 25 February 2019.
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