Planet Earth

Funky Life at an Underwater Hydrothermal Vent

At Mothra Field, more than a mile underwater, temperatures reach 600 degrees.

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Sited along a volcanic ridge, the 2,000-foot-long Mothra Field is a hydrothermal vent 200 miles off the coast of Washington State. The fantastical landscape is more than a mile beneath the sea surface and home only to life that can withstand tremendous pressure, acidity, and heat. The foundation for this unusual ecosystem? Hot, mineral-rich water jetted from stone structures called black smokers, which are themselves formed by minerals in the water.

This photo shows a three-foot-high black smoker in an area dubbed the Faulty Towers Complex. Water spewing from the smoker reaches 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo Credits: Credit: University of Washington and American Museum of Natural History

The heat and minerals around a hydrothermal vent create conditions that allow bacteria and animals to colonize the site.

Photo Credits: Credit: University of Washington and American Museum of Natural History

Some black smokers in Mothra Field are 60 feet tall. This one is 24 feet.

Photo Credits: Credit: Deborah Kelley, University of Washington

Lacy sponges living on a collapsed lake of lava make life look easy 7,000 feet below the sea surface.

Photo Credits: Credit: University of Washington and American Museum of Natural History

In a section called the Faulty Towers Complex, a black smoker called Finn is home to a bacterium--strain 121--that holds the world's record for heat tolerance: It lives in water as hot as 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Photo Credits: Credit: University of Washington and American Museum of Natural History

A skate wanders by the smoker. Fractures cutting the chimney are lined with white bacteria.

Photo Credits: Credit: John Delaney and Deborah Kelley, University of Washington

Close-up of part of a smoker about 2 miles north of the Mothra Field, on a structure called Strawberry Fields.

Photo Credits: Credit: John Delaney and Deborah Kelley, University of Washington

Strawberry Fields is named after a colony of red-plumed tubeworms that live on it. Tubeworms have no mouth, gut, or anus. Codependency is their MO: They harbor bacteria in their tissue that produce food for them; in turn, the tubeworm absorbs minerals and nutrients that feed the bacteria.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Magazine Examples
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.