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Ocean floor covered in volcanic vents
Scientists once thought that deep-sea volcanic vents were a rare and surprising occurrence. But not anymore.
Researchers studying the vents that spew superheated metal and chemicals from the inner Earth and support collections of "extremophile" creatures are finding ocean floors littered with them.
"You can go anywhere in the world's oceans and find these vents," says Christopher German of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
New research shows that these cracks - some only as wide as a person - occur wherever the Earth's tectonic plates meet on the ocean floor. Think of them as the places where the planet's crust is sewn together like a patchwork quilt. The material that seeps out is the stuffing.
And what stuff it is. Iron, copper, zinc and significant amounts of silver and gold, all heated to temperatures that have been measured as high as 752 degrees.
There's a lot more to discover. Scientists have only explored about 10% of the deep-sea mountain chains, says Peter Rona, professor of marine geology at Rutgers University. They look for the vents in the valleys between those mountains.
Black smoker - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Black smokers were first discovered in 1977 around the Galápagos Islands by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They were observed using a small submersible vehicle called Alvin. Today, black smokers are known to exist in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, at an average depth of 2100 meters. The temperature of the water they vent can reach 400 °C, but does not boil due to the high pressure it is under at that depth. The water is also extremely acidic, often having a pH value as low as 2.8 — approximately that of vinegar.
Deep sea vent biogeochemical cycle diagram