Blowing Smoke: Hydrothermal Howdy-Doo-Dees…
Some UK scientisties have recently discovered yet another mind-blowing set of hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor in the Caribbean. This latest group have been found at deeper depths than any others (only about 5,000 metres!). They are also reportedly the hottest yet discovered (around 400C, compared to surrounding water temperatures of only around 4C!)
This is all very well and very good, you may very well declare, but what the very heck is a hydrothermal vent anyway?!? What indeed. So here you are - you’re very own basic introduction to hydrothermal vents, aka deep sea vents, courtesy of those clever whomevers over at Wikipedia (I’d write a bling-lingoed up EcoLOLogist-style version, but quite frankly, I’m too tired. Zzzzzz…….)
A hydrothermal vent is a fissure in a planet’s surface from which geothermally heated water issues. Hydrothermal vents are commonly found near volcanically active places, areas where tectonic plates are moving apart, ocean basins, and hotspots. Hydrothermal vents exist because the earth is both geologically active and has very large amounts of water on its surface and within its crust. Common land types include hot springs, fumaroles and geysers. Under the sea, hydrothermal vents may form features called black smokers. Relative to the majority of the deep sea, the areas around submarine hydrothermal vents are biologically more productive, often hosting complex communities fueled by the chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids. Chemosynthetic archaea form the base of the food chain, supporting diverse organisms, including giant tube worms, clams, limpets and shrimp. Active hydrothermal vents are believed to exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and ancient hydrothermal vents have been speculated to exist on Mars.
Some hydrothermal vents form roughly cylindrical chimney structures. These form from minerals that are dissolved in the vent fluid. When the superheated water contacts the near-freezing sea water, the minerals precipitate out to form particles which add to the height of the stacks. Some of these chimney structures can reach heights of 60 m. An example of such a towering vent was “Godzilla”, a structure in the Pacific Ocean near Oregon that rose to 40 m before it fell over.
A black smoker or sea vent is a type of hydrothermal vent found on the seabed, typically in the abyssal and hadal zones. They appear as black, chimney-like structures that emit a cloud of black material. The black smokers typically emit particles with high levels of sulfur-bearing minerals, or sulfides. Black smokers are formed in fields hundreds of meters wide when superheated water from below Earth’s crust comes through the ocean floor. This water is rich in dissolved minerals from the crust, most notably sulfides. When it comes in contact with cold ocean water, many minerals precipitate, forming a black, chimney-like structure around each vent. The deposited metal sulfides can become massive sulfide ore deposits in time.
Black smokers were first discovered in 1977 on the East Pacific Rise by scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They were observed using a deep submergence vehicle called ALVIN belonging to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Now, black smokers are known to exist in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, at an average depth of 2100 metres. The most northerly black smokers are a cluster of five named Loki’s Castle, discovered in 2008 by scientists from the University of Bergen at 73°N, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Greenland and Norway. These black smokers are of interest as they are in a more stable area of the Earth’s crust, where tectonic forces are less and consequently fields of hydrothermal vents are less common. The world’s deepest black smokers are located in the Cayman Trough, 5,000 m (3.1 miles) below the ocean’s surface.
White smoker vents emit lighter-hued minerals, such as those containing barium, calcium, and silicon. These vents also tend to have lower temperature plumes. These alkaline hydrothermal vents also continuously generate acetyl thioesters, providing both the starting point for more complex organic molecules and the energy needed to produce them. Microscopic structures in such alkaline vents “show interconnected compartments that provide an ideal hatchery for the origin of life”.
Find out more about them and their super-heated awesomesauce here.
Murky Mentalness: Deep Ocean Vents Just Got Deeper, And Hotter…
Scientists working at the deep sea trench known as the Cayman Trough (near the Cayman islands in the Caribbean) have recently discovered a new group of vents which reading show are the deepest (at 4,968 metres - approximately 3 miles) and hottest (401 degrees celcius) to be found yet. The scientists are hoping the research they are conducting in this mysterious black-water-belching murkiness can help us better understand exactly how, and why life has come to exist in such extremely hostile environments. See some video footage and read more from BBC News’ David Shukman here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21520404
Rainbow-eyed Surprise: Refraction Of Light Captures Third Prize Delight…
This spectral spectacular (top photo), captured by American photographer Randall Benton, was awarded third prize recently in the Nature (singles) category of the 2013 World Press Photo contest. Although it looks like some weird demon-possessed other-worldly creature of the night, this prize pic shows nothing more sinister than a very-much-of-our-worldly trumpetfish of the Caribbean. The rainbow-eyed effect is the result of light bending as it passes through the eye of the fish which causes it to split into different wavelengths (ie, colours) - a phenomenon known as dispersion.
Trumpetfish (Aulostomus maculatus) are long thin fish who derive their name from their snouts, which look a bit like - you guessed it - a trumpet. Masters of disguise, trumpetfish can often be found hanging out around pipe sponges, sea fans and sea whips in a vertical, head down position which helps them to blend in with their surroundings as they wait for unsuspecting prey to pass by or indeed, try to avoid becoming prey themselves. They are also known to swim alongside the vertical lines of other fish while hunting. The trumpetfish’s mouth is able to stretch to a size equal to the diameter of its body and creates a vacuum which sucks up its prey (this is known as “pipette feeding”). Typically a mottled reddish-brown in colour, these fish can also change their colour to suit their surroundings, much like squid and octopus do.
Changes in colouration are also observed during trumpetfish courtship rituals (known as “dances”. For a video complete with groovy guitar music, see here). As with their close relatives the seahorses, it is the male trumpetfish who carries most of the reproductive burden. Having received eggs from the female following a successful courtship (score!), he then fertilizes them and carries them in a special pouch until they are born. Haha, suckers…
Wedsnesday’s WTF!?!: Clear Heads off the Californian Coast…
You may be excused for thinking these images are more akin to something from a sci-fi movie or the result of some over-enthusiastic Photoshopper with too much time on their hands rather than anything that Mother Nature could come up with. With its weirdly cute but almost forlorn zombie-like appearance, this little aquatic anomaly just doesn’t seem like it could possibly be for real. These are, however, very much real images of a very much real creature: one Macropinna microstoma. A member of the Barreleye family, this 6-inch-spectacular is the only species of fish within the genus Macropinna.
It’s unusual dome-shaped head is fluid-filled and totally transparent. Within can be found the two greenish-coloured lenses of its eyes. These lenses, which are barrel shaped, can be rotated either forward or straight up, allowing the fish to observe prey as it hangs motionless in the water. Found at the inky depths of 600 - 800 metres, it is assumed that the fish detects prey in these low light conditions by way of silhouette or the bioluminescent glow of jellies. The two spots (themselves resembling eyes) located to the front of its head above its mouth are actually olfactory organs called nares, which are analogous to human nostrils.
So there you go. This week’s WTF!?! in all its fluid-filled fabulousness! Smell ya later!…
Wednesday’s WTF!?!: Clear Heads off the California Coast…
A couple of years ago, researchers from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California obtained these amazing images of one Macropinna microstoma, a Barreleye fish with one particularly unusual and striking feature (let’s be honest, it’s fuc$ing awesome!) - it’s transparent, fluid-filled head! Though the species had been known to science prior to this, early drawings failed to include the bewildering bubble bit due to it’s fragility and tendency to collapse when being removed from the depths by nets (Oops…)
Their YouTube page has this to say:
MBARI researchers Bruce Robison and Kim Reisenbichler used video taken by unmanned, undersea robots called remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to study barreleye fish in the deep waters just offshore of Central California. At depths of 600 to 800 meters (2,000 to 2,600 feet) below the surface, the ROV cameras typically showed these fish hanging motionless in the water, their eyes glowing a vivid green in the ROV’s bright lights. The ROV video also revealed a previously undescribed feature of these fish—its eyes are surrounded by a transparent, fluid-filled shield that covers the top of the fish’s head.
This video is narrated by senior scientist Bruce Robison.
For more on this story, see MBARI’s news release at:
- To see some still images of this watery-wonderosity see here
World Bird Photo Contest 2nd Prize Winner: “Surfacing” by Mike Murray…
The Bird Blurb:
The blurry bird of interest in this photograph is the Great Northern Loon (Gavia immer) or the Common Loon as it is called in North America.
This species, like all divers, is a specialist fish-eater, catching its prey underwater, diving as deep as 200 feet (60m). Freshwater diets consist of pike, perch, sunfish, trout, and bass; salt-water diets consist of rock fish, flounder, sea trout, and herring.
The North American name “loon” is a reference to the bird’s clumsiness on land, and is derived from Scandinavian words for lame, such as Icelandic “lúinn” and Swedish “lam”. The bird needs a long distance to gain momentum for take-off, and is ungainly on landing. Its clumsiness on land is due to the legs being positioned at the rear of the body: this is ideal for diving but not well-suited for walking. When the birds land on water, they skim along on their bellies to slow down, rather than on their feet, as these are set too far back. The loon swims gracefully on the surface, dives as well as any flying bird, and flies competently for hundreds of kilometers in migration. It flies with its neck outstretched, usually calling a particular tremolo that can be used to identify a flying loon. Its call has been alternately called “haunting,” “beautiful,” “thrilling,” “mystical” and “enchanting.”
World Bird Photo Contest 1st Prize Winner: “Shoal of Life” by Cristobal Serrano…
The Bird Blurb:
The species of interest in this magnificent pic is the Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus), also known as Baird’s Cormorant.
These birds forage by swimming to locate prey, then diving and going after it underwater, propelled by their feet and steering with the wings. They can dive as deep as 100ft (30m) to feed on or near the seafloor. Typical hunting grounds are sheltered inlets and bays; especially outside the breeding season they can also be seen fishing out at sea. They prefer to hunt in the vicinity of kelp beds or among rocks. Typical prey are smallish, bottom-living non-schooling fishes, such as Ammodytes sand eels, sculpins (Cottidae), gunnels (Pholidae) and Sebastes rockfish. Apart from fish, small crustaceans – in particular shrimp – are also often eaten. These birds have been observed to join mixed-species feeding flocks going after schools of young Pacific Herrings (Clupea pallasii). Like in all cormorants, due to their vestigial uropygial gland their plumage is not waterproof. Thus, the birds return to a safe place after foraging to preen and dry their feathers, typically adopting a spread-winged posture.
The Contest Craic:
Lynx Edicions, publisher of the Handbook of the Birds of the World and the Internet Bird Collection, has announced the winners of the First Edition of the HBW World Bird Photo Contest. This contest has been created with the aspiration of becoming the most important bird photography competition at world level. The contest aims to encourage and disseminate knowledge about birds, while at the same time inspiring creativity in the art of photography. To these ends, it’s focus is on photography that is ethical, grounded in the utmost respect for the conservation of birds and their habitats, and without unnecessary digital manipulation.
- Bird Blurb info borrowed from Wikipedia
Sing Another Song, Boys, for He Can No Longer: Tribute to a Humpback
“Yes, I just might go to sleep
But kindly leave, leave the future, leave it open”
- Leonard Cohen, “Sing Another Song, Boys”
One of the most emotive images I’ve seen in the week following World Oceans Day, this serves as a somber reminder of how human carelessness and neglect can be the downfall even of giants.
Of this photograph, The Guardian reports:
“[This humpback whale] died at low tide in White Rock, British Columbia, a few hours after beaching itself. It was found to be tangled in a fishing net and authorities are now trying to track down the owner of the net. After the whale died, local people held a makeshift funeral – gathering to pay their respects and laying flowers.”
- Image ©Canadian Press/Rex Features
The wonders of nature never cease to amaze me! Ladies and gentlemen, presenting, for your viewing pleasure, The Christmas Tree Worm! That’s all kinds of awesomesauce!!!