Hydrothermal Vent Series - Life on the Vents

At first we were told that life depends upon energy from the sun. And then they discovered hydrothermal vents!

White Shrimp near a hydrothermal Vent, Nautilus in the Gulf of Mexico, 2013
Unlike the extremely cold temperatures of the deep ocean, hydrothermal vents produce waters so hot the form is between liquid and gas, (see beginning post Underwater Chimneys). And then to add to this extreme is the toxicity of the water due to the dissolved minerals, making it seemingly safe to conclude no life as we know it is able to survive there. And yet when the Alvin (a manned submersible owned by WHOI) discovered the first vent in 1977, the diversity of life found surpassed any they had seen before.

Obviously a different world with different species, what they discovered was incredibly diverse. A world teeming with life! Sessile organisms and pelagic creatures alike find the vent ecosystem more than suitable for "home life".

But how? How can they survive the poisonous water? And what about the tremendous heat?

Bacterial Mat at Blake Ridge diapir. Picture Courtesy of NOAA

In the world of science, the primary producers of each ecosystem are the organisms that others rely on for survival. Primary producers translate energy to food for the following consumers in the food chain. In a hydrothermal vent community, chemosynthetic bacteria are the important members, the primary producers. Since plant life is unable to grow and the concept of marine snow hardly provides enough food to account for the oasis, other vent organisms depend on the bacteria to translate the toxic energy into usable energy. Growing in thick mats on the surrounding surfaces near hydrothermal vents, chemosynthetic bacteria is grazed upon by small invertebrates like amphipods and copepods. Larger organisms like eels, crabs, jellyfish and even octopus, feed on these smaller organisms and thus continues the hydrothermal vent food chain of predator and prey.

This ecosystem can never be described as merely managing to survive, but more properly as flourishing. The bacteria provides plentiful energy for the organisms in the community.

Large numbers of vent shrimp and mussels feed on the white flocculent mats on the periphery of white smokers, showing that microorganisms are channeling energy up the food chain. Picture courtesy of NOAA

Many scientists take advantage of this deep-sea anomaly to expostulate on the theories of our origin, saying life may have begun at these points. But sadly, this is just another useless grasp for those striving to find the reason for life in other places than the true account. No sketchy gaseous explosion or bubbling pot can create the intricacy we are surrounded by. The account in Genesis is much more plausible.

Thank you for reading this weeks installment of the Hydrothermal Vent Series. Be sure to come back soon to find out how these incredible creatures can withstand the heat!

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