New Volcanic Vent Found In Antarctic Waters
During a recent expedition researchers from England’s National Oceanography Center found the remains of an old "chimney," formed when the water is much hotter, according to a release from the institution. This suggests the vent was once more active and likely supported a variety of strange life, including the kind found near other hydrothermal vents. This time, however, the cameras didn't find any such life at the vent, found at a depth of around 3,900 feet. The underwater camera that found the vent is known as SHRIMP and was towed by the research vessel RRS James Cook. The scientists were towing the camera system in a little explored region south of the Shetland Islands and north of the Antarctic Peninsula known as the Bransfield Strait. The team investigated this particular area of the deep-sea because prior measurements of the water column above Hook Ridge detected chemical changes consistent with a hydrothermal plume. On investigation, there was also a small relict ‘chimney’ of precipitated minerals on the seafloor, which suggests that the hydrothermal fluid flowing from the vent was once warmer. Hydrothermal vents are like hot springs, spewing jets of water from the seafloor out into the ocean. The expelled water, if hot enough, is rich in dissolved metals and other chemicals that can nourish a host of strange-looking life, via a process called "chemosynthesis." The hot water, being more buoyant than the surrounding cold seawater, rises up like a fountain or "plume," spreading the chemical signature up and out from the source. The Hook Ridge vent, however, was found to lack the high temperatures and alien-like creatures that we now associate with hot hydrothermal vents. Instead there was a low-lying plume of shimmering water, caused by differences relative to the surrounding seawater in certain properties, such as salinity. The work was carried out as part of the ChEsSO project, which investigates chemosynthetic environments and associated ecosystems south of the Polar Front. Co-authors are from the University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science and the National Oceanography Center.