Monday, February 20, 2012

The Light at the Bottom of the Ocean

Sorry for the delay in posting: here is my quick summary on the research that I discovered on hydrothermal vents:

Hydrothermal vents are astounding communities that are a relatively recent discovery - only found in 1977 mostly by accident. Scientists were exploring a spreading ridge near the Galapagos and when they found a roughly 400C underwater volcanoes the last thing they expected was life- but lo and behold, life is what the found. And so much of it! Here are some pictures of some of the bizarre and adapted creatures that have survived the extreme conditions.






(Shown are deep sea shrimp, the "pompeii worm," a deep sea octopus, and the "ghost yeti crab."

Further research in hydrothermal vents reveals that there are actually two distinct types of vents - a black smoker vent



and a lost city vent:



The basic difference in these two vent systems is a key point in the theory of life's origin. The black smoker, which are directly above magma chambers, are low in pH and rich in methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen gas. However, the lost city vents have an alkaline environment, with a pH around seven or eight, and are located adjacent to spreading zones. This type of vent more closely resembles the early conditions of earth that gave rise to life. Further research has shown that the Lost City vents get their carbon from an inorganic source in the mantle and not the carbon dioxide in the water. It has also been hinted that alkaline protein gradients arose before other versions.

So much fascinating evidence around these communities and while they may or may not be the origins of life they are certainly worth investigating!

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