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What Are Hydrothermal Vents?

– New York, NY

Many of the ocean’s deep-sea mysteries are yet to be discovered, but scientists have managed to uncover a fascinating aspect of the Pacific seafloor. Hydrothermal vents, discovered in 1977, are vents underneath the seafloor that release minerals and fluids. These vents form in volcanically active areas, where ocean water moves around and is heated before it rises back to the surface.

As the water exits the vent, it encounters colder, oxygenated water, which produces a series of chemical reactions. Some chemical reactions that occur include a combination of ferrous ions and hydrogen sulfide created by iron sulfide, along with hydrogen molecules. The series of chemical reactions creates materials such as sulfur, which form mineral deposits on the seafloor. The chemicals in the fluids feed microbes and support other organisms such as shrimp and mussels.

These reactions also cause hydrothermal vents to act as a plumbing system that helps to regulate the oceans. The vents also support more complex ecosystems of organisms that have adapted to live in such a harsh environment. Hundreds of new species exist around the vents, which thrive despite the extreme temperatures and pressures, lack of sunlight, and toxic minerals. These organisms are teaching scientists a lot about the evolution of life on Earth and the possible existence of life outside of Earth.

Upon the scientists’ discovery of hydrothermal vents in the Galapagos Rift, they were initially confused by the temperature spikes the vents caused. They were surprised that the temperature could change so drastically in the deep ocean. It was later determined that there were multiple types of vents, all with physical and chemical aspects, that were causing similar effects all around the world. Going forward, hydrothermal vents could become essential to scientists’ understanding of life.

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