It was the early 90s, and John Delaney was frustrated. For the past decade, he’d been studying a massive volcano about 300 miles due west of the Oregon-Washington border. It was right on the edge of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate, stood more than a thousand meters tall, and was teeming with life adapted to its extreme temperatures and acidity. The problem? It was at the bottom of the ocean.
On days when Delaney got to visit the volcano, known as Axial Seamount, he would get in a research submarine around 8 A.M., launch at 8:30, get to the seafloor by 10-ish, and then wander around — sometimes aimlessly in the early days of low-tech navigation — before he had to head back up to the surface around 3 or 3:30.
“It was pushing the envelope on what we could do, pushing the envelope on what we knew, but we would…
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