Story last updated at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2002

Scientists conduct deep study
While much of the earth has been thoroughly explored, the mysterious world under the Gulf of Alaska is not typically a prime destination.

Juneau scientist Tom Shirley, along with other scientists from around the nation, are to embark on a scientific quest to answer questions about crabs that live up to 15,000 feet below the water's surface.

"It's Jacques Cousteau science -- exploring new places in the world's oceans," Shirley said.

A professor of invertebrate biology at the Juneau center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Shirley is one of several on board the research vessel Atlantis. Helping their research is the Alvin, a tiny submarine capable of descending nearly three miles beneath the ocean's surface. At those depths, crabs have adapted to life with little oxygen or light, and some of the deepest living crabs have huge leg spans of up to 7 feet across.

While crabs are on the scientific menu, so are other creatures that call deep-sea thermal vents home. Some of them survive using methane, not photosynthesis and oxygen, as the basis for life.

"These are some pretty bizarre creatures," Shirley said.

-- Juneau Empire