Thursday August 10, 2023

Scientific American

There may be no ecosystem on Earth that seems less hospitable than hydrothermal vents. In the perpetual darkness, cold and relentless pressures of the deep sea, these volcanic seeps spew piping hot water so loaded with particles and metals that it looks like black smoke billowing from a chimney. But even these hellish habitats are crawling with life, ranging from giant clams and ravenous crabs to spindly octopuses and ghostly eelpout fish.

And those are just the creatures lurking above the vents. Using a deep-sea remotely operated vehicle (ROV), researchers recently flipped over slabs of seafloor to uncover a hidden ecosystem teeming with tiny life beneath the vents themselves. According to Monika Bright, a zoologist at the University of Vienna, who led the expedition, the assortment of worms, snails and microscopic larvae and bacteria that reside down here adds a new layer of complexity to hydrothermal vent ecosystems, which scientists have studied since 1977.

“We’ve known about the vents above for a long time, but this is basically a completely new ecosystem below,” Bright says. “It’s especially strange that we found it in a place that is very well studied.”

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