A new ecosystem has been discovered in volcanic cavities beneath hydrothermal vents at a well-studied submarine volcano in Central America’s East Pacific Rise.
The landmark 30-day voyage aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor (also) was conducted by Dr. Monika Breit of the University of Vienna, along with the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Costa Rica, and an international scientific team. Slovenia.
Using an underwater robot, the scientific team overturned parts of the volcano’s crust, finding cave systems full of worms, snails and chemical bacteria that live in 75 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) water. The discovery adds a new dimension to hydrothermal vents, showing that their habitats exist both above and below the ocean floor. Scientists have studied hydrothermal vents and microbial life underground for the past 46 years, but never looked for animals under these volcanic hot springs.
Additionally, they found evidence of vent animals, such as tube worms, traveling undersea through vent fluid to colonize new habitats. Tubeworms are one of the basal hydrothermal vent animals, but very few of their young are found in the water above the hydrothermal vents, leading Dr. Bright’s team to suspect that they travel beneath the Earth’s surface to form new hydrothermal communities.
„Our understanding of animal life in deep-sea hydrothermal vents has been greatly expanded with this discovery,” Bright said. „There are two dynamic vent habitats. Vent animals above and below the surface thrive in harmony depending on the vent fluid from below and the oxygen in the seawater from above.”
Hydrothermal vents act like underwater hot springs that flow through cracks in the Earth’s crust as a result of tectonic activity. When a new hydrothermal vent appears, the ecosystem quickly follows suit as animals colonize the area within a few years. Scientists do not know how animal larvae find new ventilation fields. Dr. Bright’s team is the first to study and confirm that tubeworm larvae can settle and live under the seabed.
To determine whether animals travel through vent fluids, the science team conducted experiments using the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s underwater robot, ROV Subastian, by sticking mesh boxes into cracks in the Earth’s crust. When the crates were removed several days later, they discovered animals living below the surface in hydrothermal vents. Scientists will study the results of their experiments in the coming months.
„We have known for a long time about animals that live in vents on land and seas of animals that live in sand and mud, but for the first time, scientists have looked for animals under hydrothermal vents,” said Dr Jyothika, executive director of SOI. Virmani. „This truly remarkable discovery of a new ecosystem, hidden beneath another ecosystem, provides new evidence that life exists in unlikely places. The Schmidt Ocean Institute is proud to provide Dr. Bright and his team with a platform to gather new insights into these systems vulnerable to deep-sea mining.
„Discoveries made on each Schmidt Ocean Institute expedition reinforce the urgency to fully explore our oceans so we know what’s in the deep ocean,” said Wendy Schmidt, president and co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. „New species, landscapes and now, an entirely new ecosystem underscore how much we still have to discover about our oceans — and how important it is to protect what we don’t know or understand.”
An LA-based artist with the science team, Max Hooper Schneider, created the sculptures filmed in the vent systems with the ROV Subastian and returned to the surface. The hydrothermal environment under study was an ideal pairing for the artist, who will include his artistic research in future exhibitions. „I will forever be fascinated by Dark Life,” said Hooper Schneider. „Deep-sea lightless ecosystems are vital to understanding Earth’s extreme dawn.”
„Oddany rozwiązywacz problemów. Przyjazny hipsterom praktykant bekonu. Miłośnik kawy. Nieuleczalny introwertyk. Student.