UA Objects – first carbonated chimneys discovered at the bottom of the Gulf of Cadiz

The irregular stone shape is hardly suggestive of the name. But it is a carbonate chimney, another of the objects that make up the history of the University of Aveiro (UA). These structures and the mud volcanoes from the depths of the Gulf of Cadiz were studied in several cruises by international teams of scientists and students, between 1999 and 2016, which included members from UA. Luís Menezes Pinheiro, a researcher at CESAM, a professor in the Department of Geosciences at UA, was the co-responsible scientist for the various cruises.

These carbonate chimneys are formed (precipitated) from methane, by a symbiosis (consortium) of microbial bacteria and archaea. Archaea are morphologically similar to bacteria but genetically and biochemically distinct from them and from the eukaryotic cells that make up the animal kingdom.

These rock formations exist in the same environments as the mud volcanoes, which are often indicators of deep hydrocarbon reserves. The term mud volcano characterizes volcanic structures created by the ejection of a mixture of clay and gases (mainly methane), in tectonically active areas. They can reach hundreds of meters in height and several kilometers in diameter.

These structures were found and studied in the depths of the Gulf of Cadiz by international teams in which UA researchers were predominant. The research was co-led by Luís Menezes Pinheiro, a professor in the Department of Geosciences at UA, on various scientific cruises to the Gulf of Cadiz. From the same team, Marina Cunha, a researcher in marine biology and professor in the Department of Biology at UA, was part of the team that investigated the life forms associated with the same environments, resulting, with the work carried out on these cruises and in collaboration with various international and UA researchers, in the discovery of new species of invertebrates in the Gulf of Cadiz.

On the TTR-10 cruise, these samples were collected at about 1000 meters deep, using a machine with a claw and an integrated camera, and the first mud volcanoes on the southern Portuguese margin were discovered and documented.

The cruises were organized within the framework of the European project Training – through – Research, with support from the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, on a Russian ship under the general coordination of Alexandr Arutyunov. The works were developed based on data that were until then reserved and in the possession of the US Navy and only made available – in the case of those related to the Portuguese sea/coast – to Luís Menezes Pinheiro. These data had been collected by researcher Joana Gardner, from the Naval Research Laboratory.

Text by: Adapted from UAonline News