Geotimes

From the Editor

Thirty years ago, on Dec. 11, 1972, Apollo 17 touched down at Taurus-Littrow on the southeastern rim of Mare Serenitatis for the last manned space flight to the Moon and the first for a geologist, Harrison H. Schmitt. Later that decade, National Geographic magazine introduced us to the world of black smokers along mid-ocean ridges. In this issue, we celebrate the former and feature the latter as two of the greatest scientific explorations of the last half-century. Noteworthy it is that, in pursuit of scientific discovery, these two explorations into dissimilar hostile environments were, literally, headed in opposite directions.

In this month's Comment, “Jack” Schmitt gives us a thoughtful and thought-provoking reflection upon his mission and the achievements of the space program. He aptly draws a comparison to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, another of our history's magical achievements. He concludes, “Because of American accomplishments in the last half of the 20th century, the curve of human evolution has been bent. The psychological, technological and survival bonds holding humans to Earth have been broken.” This idea is something to think about. Thanks, Jack.

(A personal aside: Jack invited several of us who had been graduate students with him at Harvard to witness the 1972 launch at Cape Canaveral. So while Jack launched away from Earth, we launched into a party. As the rockets ignited, we opened a bottle of champagne and watched the craft disappear into the darkness.)

Our focus in this issue is black smokers of the mid-ocean ridges and the restless Earth environment they inhabit, together with the ancient mineral deposits to which we now know they are genetically related. These unique formations develop around hot springs issuing from the volcanically active and hot ocean floor. The hot springs spew into and mix with the deep, cold ocean water, causing temperature and chemical changes that precipitate metals, silica and other materials around the vents. Over time these precipitates build chimneys and mounds around the hot springs, similar to those at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

In “The Complex World along Mid-Ocean Ridges,” Deborah R. Hassler, coordinator of the National Science Foundation's Ridge 2000 program, along with co-authors Liz Goehring and Charles Fisher, briefly describe the history of scientific collaboration directed at these features. He goes on to frame the new Ridge 2000 program as embracing “mantle to microbes.” Research will be organized around time-critical studies and integrated studies. The former will focus on the immediate impact of earthquakes, eruptions, landslides and the like, whereas the latter will focus multidisciplinary research on specific study sites. In an important move, all principal investigators are obliged to make data readily available to everyone, including potential investigators.

From the vantage point of an early career studying volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits, a class of very large and valuable mineral deposits, Steven Scott gives us a different take on smokers and ridges in “Minerals on Land, Minerals in the Sea.” (This article includes a sidebar by staff writer Christina Reed about a discovery that demonstrates the longevity of hydrothermal vent processes.)

When Scott saw the photo of smokers and their chimneys in the November 1979 National Geographic, he knew the significance to his earlier work and “bent” his career to include numerous subsequent Alvin dives and related publications. His story highlights the importance of marrying studies of the rock record with those of active earth processes and experimental investigations.

Believe your compass,


Samuel S. Adams
Geotimes Editor-in-Chief


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