|Silhouette of Little Hercules as it approaches extinct hydrothermal sulfide spire along the Galápagos Rift. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.|
Unlike great discoveries on land, the ocean is still a fairly unexplored environment. Because of man's inability to handle the oceans restrictions, simply relying on primitive methods of discovery has been largely unrewarding. As man's knowledge of technology has advanced, our ability to make new discoveries in nature has grown as well. One such benefit has allowed us to use remotely operated vehicles (ROV's) to depths of 6,000 meters or more below sea level. With this advantage scientists are able to observe sea life in its natural habitat and bring back previously impossible samples.
The Search Begins
Take for instance the presence of hydrothermal springs spewing from the ocean floor. For many decades scientists surmised the possibility of these anomalies but it wasn't until the late '70's that they were actually found.
It began in 1973 with Project FAMOUS (French-American Mid-Ocean Undersea Study). They proved that submersibles were indispensable on their mission to explore the Rift Valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and thus spurred on the 1977 expedition in search of hydrothermal activity. With the goal of proving the existence of hydrothermal plumes among other things the team of geologists led by Jack Corliss located the Galapagos Rift Valley and proceeded to the ocean floor some 2,500 meters down. From the DSV Alvin, scientists logged thrilling data of both geological vastness as well as biological, something they didn't expect. Spending a period of 24 dives during the months of February to March, they found 4 active vent sites they named Clambake, Dandelions, The Garden of Eden, and Oyster Beds. The biology, though altogether great, varied with each site.
Since then such hydrothermal springs, some consisting of black smokers and others of white smokers, have been discovered all over the ocean especially along mid-ocean ridges and seamounts. Here are a few of the more famous vent fields known in the last decade.
Hydrothermal Vent Fields
Located in the Mid-Atlantic, the Lost City vent field was discovered in the year 2000 by a team from the National Science Foundation. This vent site is a prime example of black smoker chimney growth with at least 30 chimneys reaching from 30 to 60 meters, including many smaller examples. But the most staggering of them all is the giant known as Poseidon. With a height of at least 60 meters, the Poseidon's base measures over 50 meters long. It is actively venting methane and hydrogen into the surrounding seawater.
In 2008 the most northerly vent field encountered so far was Loki's Castle vent field along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Greenland and Norway. The team was from the University of Bergen in Norway. The site was comprised of five converging vents that resembled a fantasy-like castle. They gave it the name "Loki's Castle" because of the difficulty they had in locating it.
Then, in 2010 scientists from the National Oceanography Centre and the University of Southampton explored the deepest known vent site, Beebe Hydrothermal Vent Field. With a depth of 5000 meters below sea level, the Beebe vent site is very reactive due to its extreme heat. It is located in the Cayman Trough between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. The site is named for the American ecologist William Beebe who was known for his marine studies.
The interesting thing though is that mankind has known about hydrothermal vents long before scientists began to theorize. In the oldest book in the world there is a reference, some 4,000 years old, that reads: “Have you entered the springs of the sea? Or have you walked in search of the depths?"* What kind of springs could it be speaking of except hydrothermal vents? Personally, I find this the most staggering bit of information so far. It's ironic that it has taken mankind so long to actually see it for themselves.
Thank you for reading this installment of my hydrothermal vent series. To read any of the previous articles, visit my page Marine Science. Next up, and lastly, I will be addressing what these springs mean to the world as a resource. See you then!
*Job 38:16 NKJV
-Springs of the Ocean, by Steven A. Austin - Institute for Creation Research http://www.icr.org/article/springs-ocean/
-Submarine Thermal Springs on the Galapagos Rift (PDF), Science Magazine - http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/OEDV/Galapagos_Rift_2002/doc/hydrothermal_vents_1977-2002_pdf/Corliss.pdf
-Creatures of the Thermal Vents, by Dawn Stover - Popular Science, Ocean Planet http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/OCEAN_PLANET/HTML/ps_vents.html
-Deep-Sea Vents -- Life's Toxic Sanctuary, by Dr. Joe Francis - Answers Magazine https://answersingenesis.org/biology/microbiology/deep-sea-vents-lifes-toxic-sanctuary/
-Loki's Castle - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loki%27s_Castle
-Lost City Hydrothermal Field - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_City_Hydrothermal_Field
-Beebe Hydrothermal Vent Field - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beebe_Hydrothermal_Vent_Field