Chile’s ocean a key natural laboratory for geology and biology

The triple junction off the south coast of Chile is the only place where all known forms of chemical synthesis ecosystems co-exist.


Chile has the richest and most unknown ocean worldwide, a leading expert said recently at an oceanographic congress organized by the Universidad de Concepción in the south of Chile.

Christopher German, senior scientist in Geology, Geophysics and Deep Submergence at the prestigious Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the U.S., said a marine region off the south coast of Chile is a key natural laboratory for geology and biology.

The region is known as the “triple junction”, where three tectonic plates – the Nazca, South American and Antarctic plates – are grinding against each other.

«It’s the only place in all the earth where all known chemical synthesis ecosystems can coexist,» he said.

The known forms of these ecosystems – hydrothermal vents, cold seeps, oxygen minimum zones, whale, kelp and wood-falls – are all present on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean just off of the Taitao Peninsula in Chile’s Aysén Region.

This, according to research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, means “the Chilean margin is a prime target for remarkable discoveries.”

Dr. German said he believes marine researchers must concentrate on the South Pacific, which he called the largest ecosystem in the world and the one least studied. He added that the Chile triple junction should be given first priority.

Chile’s fjord system in Patagonia was also highlighted at the congress by Günther Försterra from Chile’s San Ignacio del Huinay Foundation, located near the Comau Fjord in Chilean Patagonia, who said that the system was the “most extensive in the world” with more than 80,000 kilometers (50,000 miles) of coastline.

The fjords are rich in biodiversity, he added, with some single fjords containing their own endemic species which are found nowhere else in the world.