Project proposal details

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Project title
Mineralization of gastropods at modern hydrothermal vents
Contact name
Crispin Little
Contact email
Project based at
Natural History Museum
Imperial contact email
Project description
Hydrothermal vents are extreme environments where hot, acidic fluid is ejected onto seafloor, usually at great depths. These conditions would seem to be inimical to the preservation of fossils, and yet there is fossil record of hydrothermal vent animals that stretches back hundreds of millions of years, and includes tube worms, brachiopods, gastropods and bivalves. In part this record can be explained because vent sites are also places where very rapid mineralization occurs, which can lead to exceptional preservation. Indeed, seafloor experiments at hydrothermal vents have shown that mineralization of mollusc shells and worm tubes can take place in under a year. This mineralization is by sulphides, particularly pyrite. However, the details of the early stages of this mineralization process are largely unknown, and yet crucial to understanding the preservation of animals at vents, and thus the biases present in the fossil record of vent communities. Recently a number of gastropod specimens have been collected from modern hydrothermal vents in the West Pacific and Indian Oceans, that have shells that are coated in minerals. A detailed investigation of these will likely prove instructive to understanding more about the early stages of preservation of animals with shells at vent sites.

Aims and methods
The project aims to investigate the mineralogy of the coatings on the vent gastropod shells, and the interactions of the these mineral coatings with carbonate shells. The techniques will include first CT scanning the shells to gain knowledge of the three-dimensional structure of shells and the mineral coatings. This technique should work well, as the mineral coatings are likely to be sulphides, which will contrast strongly with the carbonate nature of shells. Then the shells will be made into polished blocks for subsequent detailed mineralogical investigation using SEM and XRD. Finally, the results from the modern material will be compared to data from fossilized vent gastropods, where the mineral replacement process been complete.

Supervisory arrangements
The analytical work will be performed at the Natural History Museum, under supervision of the project leader, Dr Crispin Little, and NHM staff (Richard Herrington and Adrian Glover).
Date uploaded

Project proposal limitations

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Suitable for
Taxonomy and Biodiversity [NHM MSc], Biosystematics [NHM MRes]