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Too Hot? Gotta Vent!

Dory Marcus
OverviewProcedure for 
teachersStudent Resources and 
6 forty-five minute class periods


The deep ocean: few have seen its mysteries. But thanks to modern technology, scientists can now explore the depths of the sea, diving straight down into canyons that rival those on land. The ocean continues to be one of science's great frontiers, providing new discoveries about the geological history and evolution of our world, as well as the origins of life on this, and potentially other, planets. This lesson will provide students with the opportunity to learn about deep sea hydrothermal vents called "black smokers." The discovery of black smokers in the 1970s has expanded our knowledge about the earth's crust and challenged our conceptions of the basis of life.

Using video and Internet resources students will learn about deep sea exploration and underwater geology, specifically hydrothermal sea vents. In addition students will create digital video projects of their own to demonstrate their knowledge, illustrating the discoveries of the explorers of the ocean's abyss.

Major corporate support is provided by Canon U.S.A., Inc. and Ford.


Students will be able to:
  • Identify the geological and chemical forces that cause the creation of deep sea vents;
  • Identify advances in technology and scientific research that support deep ocean research;
  • Utilize video, Internet and print resources to research information;
  • Work collaboratively to produce a presentation, video or other product.


From the National Science Education Standards for Grades 5-8, available online at

Science as Inquiry, CONTENT STANDARD A: As a result of activities in grades 5 - 8 students should be able to develop the abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry and cultivate an understanding about scientific inquiry.

Earth and Space Science, CONTENT STANDARD D: As a result of activities in grades 5 - 8 students should be able to develop an understanding of the structure of the earth system and patterns of geological activity.

History and Nature of Science, CONTENT STANDARD G: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of science as a human endeavor, the nature of science, and the history of science.

From the National Technology Education Standards for Students for Grades 6-8, available online at

Standard # 4: Technology as a Communications Tool: Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences. Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.

Standard # 5: Technology as a Research Tool: Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources. Students use technology tools to process data and report results. Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.



NATURE: episode #2003: "Dive to the Abyss"

Web sites:

Black Smoker Animation
The American Museum of Natural History Expeditions site provides a Flash animation provides a dynamic illustration of how black smokers are formed. Navigate by clicking on the green arrows and rolling the mouse over yellow words to see highlighted illustrations of those features. Requires the Flash Player Browser Plug-in, available online at

Dive and Discover: Expeditions to the Sea Floor InfoMods
Check out "The Discovery of Hydrothermal Vents" and "Hydrothermal Vents" for more information.

Habitats: Hydrothermal Vents - Characteristics
A concise summary of hydrothermal vents, written at an appropriate level for middle school students. Take the quiz to test your understanding.

Abyss Live
Dive diaries from the Dive to the Abyss expeditions including Alastair Fothergill's exploration of 9 North, 500 miles off Mexico's Pacific coast. Includes Infobursts with quick facts and other information.


For the class:
  • Digital Video camera, at least one per class or more per cooperative groups of students (4-5 students/ group)
  • Video editing software,
  • iMovie, Apple (Mac)
  • MovieMaker, Microsoft (PC)
  • Optional: tripod, wireless microphone(s)
For each video production team (4-5 students): For each student: