Hydrothermal Vents are completely isolated from the world of lights; whole communities of organisms (creatures) live in places where warm water flows from chimneys in the ocean floor. These vents are found in some of the deepest places in the ocean, far beyond the reach of normal submarines or divers. Hydrothermal vents are formed where two oceanic plates pull apart and erupting lava replaces the sea floor. In these areas, extremely hot, mineral-rich fluid flows out from underneath the ocean floor’s surface. The hot fluid flows into very cold water, usually 750F, and cools down quickly. The cooled minerals in the fluid settle around the vent opening creating chimney-like formations. Some chimneys have been known to grow as tall as 4 miles. Cold seeps are areas similar to hydrothermal vents. Though the cold seep waters are about the same temperature as the surrounding waters, they are called cold seeps in contrast to the extremely hot fluids from hydrothermal vents. The cold seeps support organisms similar to the hydrothermal vents though the exact make-up of the biological community surrounding them depends on the chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, methane, iron, manganese and silica, found in the cold-seep fluid.
Although hydrothermal vents are what we would consider a harsh environment, they are abundant with life. As long as the vents remain active, which is usually one to two years, animals thrive there. In fact, more than 300 species live around the vents and are unique to this type of environment. These creatures, including; tubeworms, fish, crabs, shrimp, clams, anemones and chemosynthetic bacteria, have learned to survive the complete darkness, the extremely hot vent water and the tremendous water pressure. At such depths, sunlight is unable to penetrate and allow plants to photosynthesize. Thus, they cannot be the basis of the food chain as they are for us and for every other creature with which we normally come in contact. Animals at these depths depend on bacteria that are able to convert sulfur found in the vent’s fluids into energy through chemosynthesis. Larger animals then eat the chemosynthetic bacteria or eat the animals that eat the bacteria. In other vent creatures, the chemosynthetic bacteria live inside their bodies. Some organisms, such as the tubeworms, that live around the vents do not have a mouth or even a digestive tract as we do. The bacteria actually live inside their bodies and provide nutrients directly to the organisms’ tissues.
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The most spectacular kind of hydrothermal vents are called “black smokers”, where a steady stream of “smoke” gushes from chimney-like structures. The “smoke” consists of tiny metallic sulfide particles that precipitate out of the hot vent fluid as it mixes with the cold seawater. Plumes from such vents can be traced in the ocean for hundreds of meters upwards and hundreds of kilometers horizontally. The chimneys are made out of sulfide minerals that precipitate out of the vent fluid and can grow 10’s of meters high. Many large ore deposits now found on land were formed at hydrothermal vents millions or even billions of years ago. Black smokers are an example of focused vents, in which almost all the vent fluid comes out of one small pipe.
Sometimes the hot fluids rising from depth are mixed with cold seawater and spread out before they emerge back onto the seafloor. These are called diffuse vents and are usually only a few tens of degrees above the near freezing deep ocean water. Diffuse vent areas have warm water exiting the seafloor over a large area and consequently do not build sulfide chimneys. However, they still contain high levels of hydrogen sulfide and other compounds that specialized microbes can use for energy. This is the basis for an ecosystem that is largely independent of the sun and gives rise to the specialized vent animals such as large tubeworms and clams. The relatively low temperature allows the animals to remain immersed in the nutrient rich water and allows the diffuse vent sites to develop into complex ecosystems. Often chimneys with focused, high-temperature venting are surrounded by areas of diffuse, low-temperature venting.
... existed for the first time. Hydrothermal vents are chimney like structures on the ocean floor that release extremely hot, mineral rich water. This process ... studied animals of the hydrothermal vent community is the Giant Tube Worm, Riftia. Riftia satisfies its large appetite by using sulfide oxidizing bacteria located ...
White smokers are another kind of vents that emit lighter-hued minerals, such as those containing barium, calcium, and silicon. These vents also tend to have lower temperature plumes. These alkaline hydrothermal vents also continuously generate acetyl thioesters, providing both the starting point for more complex organic molecules and the energy needed to produce them, Microscopic structures in such alkaline vents “show interconnected compartments that provide an ideal hatchery for the origin of life.
Hydrothermal vents, in some instances, have led to the formation of exploitable mineral resources via deposition of seafloor massive sulfide deposits. The Mount Isa ore body located in Queensland, Australia, is an excellent example.
Recently, mineral exploration companies, driven by the elevated price activity in the base metals sector during the mid 2000s, have turned their attention to extraction of mineral resources from hydrothermal fields on the seafloor. Significant cost reductions are, in theory, possible. Consider that in the case of the Mount Isa ore body, large amounts of capital are required to sink shafts and associated underground infrastructure, then laboriously drill and blast the ore, crush and process it, to win out the base metals, an activity which requires a large workforce.
The Marshall hydrothermal recovery system is a patented proposal to exploit hydrothermal vents for their energy and minerals. A hydrothermal field, consisting of chimneys and compacted chimney remains, can be reached from the surface via a dynamically positioned ship or platform, using conventional pipe, mined using modified soft rock mining technology, brought to the surface via the pipe, concentrated and dewatered then shipped directly to a smelter. While the concept sounds far-fetched, it uses already proven technology derived from the offshore oil and gas industries, and the soft-rock mining industries.
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The conservation of Hydrothermal Vents has been the subject of sometimes heated discussion in the Oceanographic Community for the last 20 years. It has been pointed out that it may be that those causing the most damage to these fairly rare habitats are scientists. There have been attempts to forge agreements over the behavior of scientists investigating vent sites but although there is an agreed code of practice there is as yet no formal international and legally binding agreement.