Scientists look beneath hydrothermal vents on the sea floor for the first time, leading to a groundbreaking discovery

With the help of an underwater robot, they discover an entirely new ecosystem, consisting of cave systems teeming with life.

Hydrothermal vents are a well-studied phenomenon. For decades, these sources have been closely examined by scholars. However, they seem to have surprises in store for us. Aboard the research vessel Falkor (also), a team has traveled to a known submarine volcano in the eastern Pacific Ridge. And in the volcanic cavities below the hydrothermal vents, they were surprised to find a completely new ecosystem in which many animals seemed to thrive.

What is a hydrothermal spring?
Hydrothermal vents are sea floor volcanic eruptions found around the world in volcanically active areas, usually near a mid-ocean ridge. The warm, mineral-rich liquid emerges through cracks in the Earth’s crust, which have been heated by Earth’s magma. The underwater world around these sources forms a unique ecosystem. A well-known area of ​​hydrothermal vents is located in the lower part of the Atlantic Ocean in the so-called Atlantis Massif in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The first life on Earth may have originated in places like this.

The researchers used an advanced underwater robot to move parts of the volcanic crust. In this way, they were able to take a look for the first time under a thermal geyser located near an undersea volcano at a depth of 2,500 meters. “We developed special mesh boxes in the Netherlands that were glued over cracks in the Earth’s crust,” says marine biologist Sabine Gollner from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Marine Research. When they removed those boxes along with the shell a few days later, they made a groundbreaking discovery.

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to live
The team discovered cave systems teeming with worms, snails, and chemosynthetic bacteria. The animals seem to live in water at a pleasant temperature of 25°C. “Scientists have studied hydrothermal vents for the past 46 years, but they’ve never looked for animals beneath these volcanic hot springs,” says Gollner. “We were elated as we caught a glimpse of the underground hollows, which are teeming with life. This discovery adds a new dimension to hydrothermal vents and shows that life exists all around them, both above and below the sea floor.”

Tube worms
The researchers also found evidence that animals from the springs, such as tubeworms, can travel under the sea floor via the fluid from the springs to colonize new habitats. This is an interesting new insight. Tubeworms are one of the most common animals at hydrothermal vents, but very few young of these animals have been found in the waters above hydrothermal vents. This led scientists to suspect that they are moving underground to create new hydrothermal communities. And it turned out to be true. “Our understanding of animal life in deep-sea hydrothermal vents has greatly expanded with this discovery,” said expedition leader Monica Bright. “There are two dynamic habitats. The animals above and below the ground reproduce together in harmony, depending on the fluids from below and the oxygen in the seawater from above.”

environmental system
Hydrothermal springs are actually a type of underwater hot spring. Warm water rises through cracks in the Earth’s crust caused by tectonic activity. When new hydrothermal vents appear, the ecosystem quickly follows: within a year, animals have already colonized the area. Scientists don’t know how animal larvae find new hot springs. This has now been investigated in more detail for the first time. Researchers confirm that tubeworm larvae can settle beneath the sea floor and even survive and thrive there. Finding a completely new ecosystem under the sea is proof of that.

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Living in incredible places
The discovery is special. “On Earth, we’ve known for a long time that animals can live in underground caves,” says the executive director of Schmidt Institute of the OceansJyotika Virmani. “And in the ocean, animals live in sand and mud. But for the first time, scientists have now looked under hydrothermal vents. This truly remarkable discovery of a new ecosystem hidden beneath another ecosystem provides new evidence for life in wonderful places. It Schmidt Institute of the Oceans Proud to provide a platform for Dr. Bright and her team will gather new insights into these systems that may be vulnerable to deep sea mining.”

The scientists will study the results of their experiments in more detail in the coming months. The results also have far-reaching implications. said Wendy Schmidt, President and Co-Founder Schmidt Institute of the Oceans. “Discovering new creatures, landscapes, and now a whole new ecosystem underscores how much we still have to discover about our surroundings – and how important it is to protect what we don’t yet know or understand.”

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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