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15 : Dark Life at Deep-Sea Vents : 2014

Methanopyrus kandleri is a heat- and salt-loving species of that makes its home on the chimney walls of smokers. It harvests energy from hydrogen gas and releases methane, a process known as methanogenesis. It's this process that gives the microbe its name: Methanopyrus translates to “methane fire.” Methanopyrus kandleri has been isolated from hydrothermal sediments at Kolbeinsey Ridge off the coast of Iceland and the Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California. In the laboratory its cells can even divide at 122°C, the highest temperature known to be compatible with microbial growth, though it grows best at 98°C.

Chemosynthesis | Hydrothermal Vent | Botany

The most extensive ecosystem based on chemosynthesis lives around undersea hot springs. At these hydrothermal vents, a chemical-rich soup bubbles out of the crust and into the bottom of the sea. Boiling hot, saturated with toxic chemicals and heavy metals, and more acidic than vinegar, vent waters are deadly to most marine animals.

Chemosynthesis and Hydrothermal Vent Life Introduction

However, at hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean a unique ecosystem has evolved in the absense of sunlight, and its source of energy is completely different: chemosynthesis.

Despite the total darkness, crushing water pressure, and temperatures that swing from above boiling to near freezing, life is good at hydrothermal vents thanks to chemosynthetic bacteria. Vent faunas have both large biomass and high diversity—over 300 species of animals have been found at vents, most living nowhere else on the planet.

Hydrothermal Vents - Chemosynthesis

But life based on chemosynthesis is also precarious. The hydrothermal vents—the source of life-sustaining chemicals—can be extinguished at any time by earthquakes, lava flows, or rock falls. Many vents close after a few months or years, and few seem to survive more than a couple of decades. Once the supply of chemicals stops, the bacteria die and the rest of the fauna either migrates or perishes.

Plants harness energy from the sun to manufacture sugars. This process is called photosynthesis. Sunlight, however, does not reach the hydrothermal vent communities at the bottom of the ocean. Instead, the microbes get their energy from different chemicals in hydrothermal fluid. For example, some get their energy by breaking down hydrogen sulfide.

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Chemosynthesis & Hydrothermal Vent Communities - …

Chemosynthetic communities are also found in marine settings other than hydrothermal vents. At so-called cold-seeps, where tectonic activity squeezes mineral water out of the ground and around sea bottom petroleum deposits, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide are released. Bacteria use these compounds to make organic molecules, which support a web of symbionts, carnivores, and scavengers.

especially in deep-sea hydrothermal vents, ..

Paleontologists have recently proposed that the very first life on Earth was chemosynthetic bacteria. Conditions on the young planet at the time of the oldest fossils had much in common with the harsh conditions found at hydrothermal vents. Without chemosynthesis, our planet might well be little more than a lifeless rock.

Deep sea ecology: hydrothermal vents and cold seeps | …

Apart from hydrogen sulfide, vent water also contains poisonous heavy metals and is more acidic than vinegar. Biologists still don't know exactly how vent animals survive in these conditions.

Unique biodiversity
More than 300 species have so far been identified in deep-sea hydrothermal vent ecosystems, of which over 95% are new to science. Many are restricted to a particular vent field, making each ecosystem unique. On average, a new vent species has been discovered every 10 days since vent ecosystems were first discovered in 1977.

And ancient too
Amazingly, vent life has changed little over time. A whole new domain of life was discovered in vent ecosystems - Archaea, an ancient form of life most closely related to the first life on Earth.

Other vent life also appears to be more closely related to ancient animals than to animals living closer to the ocean's surface. Indeed, vent animals on opposite sites of the globe are more closely related to each other than to those living outside the vent ecosystem, just a few metres away.

Some researchers have speculated that life began in extreme environments similar to hydrothermal vents. Others have even suggested that if these environments exist on other planets, then life might very well exist there too.

when hydrothermal ocean vents were predicted to exist in the 1970s.

Travel to a world of perpetual night--the deep ocean hydrothermal vents near the Galapagos Rift where life thrives around superheated water spewing from deep inside the Earth. Discovered only in 1977, are home to dozens of previously unknown species. Huge red-tipped , ghostly fish, strange shrimp with eyes on their backs and other unique species thrive in these extreme found near undersea volcanic chains. How is life possible here? In a process called chemosynthesis, microbes at the base of the foodchain convert chemicals from the vents into usable energy. See closeup footage of hydrothermal vents and species in this clip from the IMAX film "Volcanoes of the Deep."

Photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are both processes by ..

Life is typically sparse on the deep seafloor, where organisms endure high pressure, near-freezing temperatures and pitch-black darkness. But at certain spots on the ocean floor where tectonic plates meet, unique ecosystems teem with unusual animal species. There, mineral-laden fluid is emitted either as a warm (5-100 degrees Celsius/41-212 degrees Fahrenheit), diffuse flow from seabed cracks or as plumes of superheated water (250-400 degrees Celsius/482-752 degrees Fahrenheit) from chimney-like structures. These structures are referred to as hydrothermal vents, and the are referred to as hydrothermal vent communities. When first discovered in the 1970s, these oases in the deep sea were a complete surprise—Dr. Bob than his finding of the wreck of the Titanic!

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