An alien landscape teeming with astonishing life exists deep under the surface of the ocean off the southern Gulf of California, and scientists are only just beginning to understand how this diverse ecosystem thrives and survives in such a seemingly hostile environment.
The two-part mission consisted of high-resolution mapping of a known hydrothermal vent field known as Auka and the newly discovered JaichMatt field found just 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away. Both areas are of particular interest given their unusual chemistry and geology in a volcanic deep-sea environment. JaichMaat is not only home to multiple hydrothermal calcite mounds reaching up to 25 meters (82 feet) high and venting fluids as hot as 287°C (549°F), but a plethora of unidentified species and features were revealed during the submarine exploration – including hydrothermal fluids that pour into “upside-down lakes and waterfalls”.
“The hydrothermal structures here are beautiful. The animals and the bacteria that are supported by the vents are different because the chemistry of the fluids is different than the usual sulfide type chimneys,” said Research Specialist Jennifer Paduan in a statement.
The largest vent, fittingly named Tay Ujaa or "big cave", consisted of a cavern constructed of calcite produced as a byproduct of the hydrothermal activity. Here, the cavern holds “shimmering” water before it escapes over the rim in what looks like an upside-down waterfall.