November - Get Warmed Up With Hydrothermal Vents

Since starting Habitat Highlight we’ve showcased to you: the forests of the ocean (kelp and mangroves) and the open ocean itself. How about if I told you that the ocean had volcanos? Also, in these volcanos, there is speculation that life on Earth began there? You’d really look at me oddly, the effects of quarantine over summer and lack of human interaction has really got to me. Underwater volcanos… For a start it just doesn’t sound plausible does it? Well my friends… I bring to you… HYDROTHERMAL VENTS.

Hydrothermal vents were first discovered on the Galapagos Rift but are found in regions of the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern and Arctic oceans. They are located along mid ocean ridges where tectonic plates spread apart. A new crust is formed and becomes ‘super heated’ by hot magma. Minerals rise towards the crust surface as they dissolve, and hot waters then exit the crust and mix with the cool sea water. Minerals then cool and solidify creating mineral deposits, these then create the hydrothermal vent structures! Hydrothermal vents contain toxic minerals which bacteria convert into usable forms of energy for other organisms, using chemosynthesis. Minerals then cool and solidify creating mineral deposits, these then create the various hydrothermal vent structures!

There are three different (known) types of vents: Black smokers, White smokers and sweeps.

Black smokers are the tallest hydrothermal vents as they can reach up to 55 meters tall! That’s 18 stories, only 7 more than the Glasgow University Library but underwater?! The mind boggles! The black smokers emit the hottest and darkest plumes of smoke which have the highest sulpher content.

White smokers are light coloured and contain barium calcium and silicone, and are much smaller than the black smokers.

Sweeps have much smaller chimneys, are cooler and have weaker plumes.

Hydrothermal vents are extremely tough places to live. There is a lack of sunlight, extremely high pressures, very low pH’s, temperatures reaching around 114OC and a variety of dangerous gases like hydrogen sulfide which are toxic to land mammals. Despite these surreal living conditions there are more than 300 species which call the vents their home, and there are around 10 new species of organisms discovered every day in hydrothermal vents. Species which inhabit the vents are highly specialised as every ecosystem in hydrothermal vents are unique. However, hydrothermal vents have rarely changed since first being created, and there is even speculation that life began in extreme environments like hydrothermal vents!!

A fun fact about hydrothermal vents is that they shimmer! This is due to having different water temperatures which then cause bubbles as a result of CO2.

Stay tuned for our species of the month to see what can actually live down there!!

Check out these links for more information!

Don't let your pressure build up as much as it does in the depth of the ocean! Let it out!

Stay warm, stay happy, stay sane