Stunning videos shared on Twitter have revealed three new-to-science hydrothermal vents found on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. At a depth of 3,740 meters (12,270 feet), the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s new research vessel Falkor (too) came across the vents, and videos were shared by biologist and deep-sea explorer Joan Alfaro.
It’s the first scientific mission for Falkor (too), a research ship that’s gone in search of hydrothermal systems and the ecosystems that live within them. Researchers have been doing a systematic search of Inside Corner High, a fracture zone where plates are moving in opposite directions, making it a promising spot for exposed mantle rocks to try and find active venting.
“In some geologic settings like the slow spreading ridges, which the mid-Atlantic ridge is an example of, the underlying mantle comes up and gets exposed at the seafloor,” said Dr David Butterfield, principal investigator at the University of Washington, NOAA in a Youtube video. “The minerals in the mantle have never been exposed to water and a whole series of reactions take place between the seawater and the mantle rocks, the overall process is called serpentinization.”
“The flues that are produced they precipitate calcium carbonate and grow these towers that hadn’t been seen until 2000 at what’s now called The Lost City vent field. There’s only two of three sites like The Lost City but there’s a huge area where those sites could exist.”
It seems Falkor has struck vent gold on its maiden voyage, and the resulting footage is shrimply spectacular.
In a series of #Divestream updates, Schmidt Ocean is providing information on the “black smokers” found by The Lost City Vents team, describing the scenes as “a truly epic shrimp party”. You can follow along on the dives and watch the science unfold.
“We’re interested in hydrothermal systems in general and the chemosynthetic ecosystems that live in those hydrothermal systems,” continued Butterfield. “Things that happen on the bottom of the ocean may seem unrelated to everyday existence but they are part of how the planet functions and it’s important to understand that.”
Falkor (too) was launched in early March of this year and funded by Schmidt Ocean Institute founders Eric and Wendy Schmidt in exchange for all discoveries being made publicly available. Its inaugural expedition is taking them along the world's most extensive underwater mountain chain, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. As well as going in search of hydrothermal vents, it’s hoped that studying the microbes living on them could provide insight into the conditions that facilitated life’s origin.
It seems there are plenty more shrimp to come.