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Cindy Lee Van Dover

Part of Hall of Ocean Life.

Cindy Lee Van Dover

How is Cindy Lee Van Dover involved with deep sea vents?

Cindy Lee Van Dover is an oceanographer and explorer with a strong background in ecology and invertebrate zoology. Her work deals with the ecology of deep sea vent communities. Cindy was Alvin's first femal pilot. She has led many Alvin expeditions to study deep sea vents and collect specimens for further study.

What's Cindy's take on kids and deep sea vents?

Why should kids know about deep sea vents?

If we are to understand very basic properties of our planet, we need to understand how seawater and rock interact to form hot springs, a process that helps to create the chemistry of our deep oceans. There are also many reasons to think that life might have evolved at deep sea vents; our very origins may be linked to these primeval-looking habitats!

How can students everywhere be good stewards of the oceans?

One should study vents for all the same reasons that we study coral reefs and coastal waters, rain forests, and Arctic ice. We want to know how they work, how they compare; and that way we can protect them. It's about having a sense of "place," of understanding all of our planet. And, if for no other reason, one should know about vents because they are stunningly beautiful. The geological formations rival the grandeur of any of the fabulous national parks. The animal communities are as vibrant and beautiful as any tropical coral reef. The vents are truly part of Earth's wilderness.

More on Cindy Van Dover the Person
Field of Study Oceanography, with an emphasis on the ecology of deep sea chemosynthetic communities.
Hometown Eatontown, New Jersey (Exit 105 on the Garden State Parkway), which is about five miles from where Bruce Springsteen grew up and about five miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
Favorite Middle/High School Subjects "I loved all the sciences, especially biology when I was in high school."
Least Favorite Middle/High School Subjects "I disliked math and English."
Thoughts on Middle "I wish I had known how interesting and dynamic the Earth sciences are. When I was in high school, Earth science was for the non-college track of students. I wish I had known that if I went to college as a geology major, I would be required to go to geology field camp out west."
Interests in Middle "I was a reader when I was young and still am. I traveled as much as I was allowed then, and still do."
Interests Today "Writing is a hobby now. I love to dance."
Life Lessons from the Field "I am not a complacent person. I don¹t like to think that I might be ordinary. Yet I think I am very ordinary and so continually pursue the exceptional."
Major Influences "My parents were very influential, instilling a strong work ethic. My mom taught me to love nature; my dad taught me to love technology. My biology teachers taught me well, and I had the privilege of working in a marine research lab during two of my high school summers. The scientists who worked there were wonderful, and I wanted to grow up to be like them. Professors in college and graduate school had a great deal of influence on me as an individual and a scientist; the tempo and tenor of my work aspire to meet theirs."
Kids "I have no children. I did just adopt a two-year-old, intrepid Yorkshire terrier named Annie, who, I have discovered, demands as much attention as a child must. I don¹t think she is impressed by my work. She is not going to like it the next time I have to leave town for a month to go on a research cruise!"
Number of Trips to the Deep Sea So Far "I have made more than 100 dives to the seafloor, almost all of them to hydrothermal vents."

AMNH: What's so important about your field of study?

Cindy: Our knowledge of deep sea hydrothermal vents began to accumulate just 25 years ago—in other words, Mickey Mouse predates the discovery of hot springs on the seafloor! But even if we didn't know about them, deep sea vents have been around since the oceans first formed, since long before life began on Earth; and life itself may have evolved in deep sea vent environments. The living environment at the vents is based on chemical energy rather than on energy from the Sun; we want to find out if the rules of photosynthetically-based systems apply to chemically-based systems as well. And we also want to understand how the chemistry of the oceans is determined, at least in part, by the cycling of seawater through the ocean crust and its exhalation at deep sea vents. Finally, vent science has changed how we explore other planets; we now look for evidence of hydrothermal systems and of microorganisms using chemical energy. In fact, NASA is supporting our search for phototrophic microorganisms, which may use the light emitted from black smokers as a source of energy. If we find them, they may even have retained attributes of Earth's earliest phototrophs.

AMNH: How do you study deep sea vent ecosystems? What are you looking for?

Cindy: I investigate many kinds of issues at vents, including patterns of distributions of vent species (which species occur where and why), food web relationships (who eats whom), and functional anatomy (how particular structures of a species are adapted to the environment). Vents are very different from terrestrial and shallow-water ecosystems because they are fueled by chemical energy and chemosynthesis