The ocean is pretty incredible, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s down there, although scientists are making steady progress.
Take a trip down to one of the deepest parts of the ocean, and you might find hydrothermal vents – boiling hot plumes of seawater shooting like geysers into the surrounding water.
The waters around hydrothermal vents may seem inhospitable to life, but in reality, these regions support rich and diverse ecosystems that live off the chemicals that flow from the seafloor.
Per Gizmodo, a team of scientists from the Sylvan Geomicrobiology Lab travelled to the ocean’s floor last year to check them out.
“It really is otherworldly,” Jason Sylvan, principle investigator on Sylvan Geomicrobiology Lab’s Hot2Cold Vents exploration project and microbiologist at Texas A&M University, told Earther. “You feel like you’re on another planet.”
These scientists aren’t the first to make the journey into the deep.
Check out this footage from last year, captured by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, to get a sense of the ‘otherworldliness’:
More from 2016:
If you’re wondering why the plumes look like black smoke, here’s some science to the face:
The vents form in the spaces where tectonic plates spread apart. There, hot magma rises and cools to form new seafloor. When cold ocean water seeps into these mid-ocean ridges, it gets heated up by that magma. As the seawater gets heated, pressure builds and sets off chemical reactions that pull in minerals from the rocks.
Eventually, that sends the hot mineral-laden water shooting up through the seafloor. As the minerals cool down, they solidify and form giant chimneys through which mineral-rich hot water—reaching an average of 700 degrees Fahrenheit (371 degrees Celsius)—pours out.
When the vents stop producing hot water, the ecosystem changes, which can alter the biological makeup of the rest of the ocean.
It’s unclear whether that would benefit the deep sea or harm it, so Sylvan’s team took samples of the minerals and animals there to better understand how the ecosystems function.
The scientists found that the areas around the vents are filled with fish, mussels, and bright-white crabs. Some of the creatures they saw were downright bizarre, like an orange octopus with glassy blue eyes, and six-foot long tubeworms whose feathery red plumes act like gills, absorbing the seawater’s oxygen and the vent fluid’s hydrogen sulfide.
You’ll probably never see anything like this closer to the surface.
There’s hardly any research on dormant ecosystems so this is another step towards understanding the ocean.
It’s also really cool.
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