Scientists have uncovered a secret world of creatures beneath an undersea volcano.
The habitat is filled with unique life forms, including unusual worms, snails and octopuses that have never been seen before. This ecosystem was discovered by scientists on Falkor, a research vessel, who scraped away layers of seafloor using rotary tools.
Jyotika Virmani, the executive director of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, announced that scientists have discovered animals living in underground cavities and oceans, but this new ecosystem found beneath hydrothermal vents is just as intriguing because it provides fresh evidence for the existence of life in incredible places.
Deep in the Pacific, there exist enormous towering hydrothermal vents.
The East Pacific Ridge, a tectonic plate boundary near the Galapagos Islands in South America, was where scientists discovered hydrothermal vents in 1977. These totems of melted wax are approximately 35 to 40 feet (10 to 12 meters) tall and pump mineral-rich water into the oceans.
Despite the extreme temperatures of the vents, which can reach up to 694 degrees Fahrenheit (368 degrees Celsius), researchers observed thriving food chains that were sustained by the rich nutrients gushing out from the outlets.
Until now, scientists had never considered looking under the vents.
During the mission, scientists cleared a square of ocean floor with ice and then placed mesh boxes over cracks in the Earth’s crust. When they delved deeper into the boxes, they discovered that numerous animals had already settled under the cavities, proving that the animals came from beneath the seafloor.
Scientists were particularly interested in the giant tube worm (Riftia pachyptila), but they only find a few young among these animals above the vents, so they are thought to crawl inside subsea volcanic fluids to reach new habitats.
Monika Bright, an ecologist at the University of Vienna, stated in a statement that the discovery has greatly expanded our understanding of animal life at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. She explained that animals living at these sites thrive in combination at both the surface and the underwater level because they rely on their fluid intake and oxygen from above.
The researchers, who will publish their findings later this year, will keep examining this delicate and enigmatic ecosystem, which is considered vulnerable to the impact of proposed deep-sea mining in the Pacific Ocean.
Wendy Schmidt, president and co-founder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, highlighted the importance of exploring the deep sea and preserving unknown and unexplored resources.