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Hydrothermal Vents - What Are They?

What does a Vent Look Like?
Vents are geysers on the ocean floor that spew hot, mineral-rich water to nurture dense, bizarre biocommunities. Vents may be 3.5 - 4 billion years old, but were discovered by scientists less than 25 years ago.

Where are Vents Located?
Vents exist in all the world's oceans. Most are found at an average depth of 2225 meters (7,300 feet) in areas of seafloor spreading and near active volcanoes along the Mid-Ocean Ridge.
How are Vents Formed?
Seawater seeps into cracks in the earth's crust, becomes superheated by magma, picks up and loses minerals on its way, then rises and bursts out into the ocean again through holes in the seafloor.

To review:
Hydrothermal vents are mysterious geysers deep on the ocean floor that support bizarre oases. They are so strange, in fact, that they occasionally make front-page news. Sometimes the headlines sound as if they belong in those tabloids on display at supermarket checkout stands.

Why are the vents important?

Vents are thought to regulate the temperature and chemical composition of the oceans and provide an outlet for the earth's inner heat.

Archaea, a new domain of life, as well as many new species have been discovered in vent communities.

Vent research helps us understand the past and deal with the future by providing:

clues to the origin of life on Earth and elsewhere in our solar system
possible mineral sources
a promise of medical and industrial breakthroughs
a dialog on the ethics of vent exploration, exploitation, and protection

Interesting Facts
Vent water can reach 403 Celsius (757 F).
Vent creatures thrive on hydrogen sulfide, usually a deadly poison.
Vent oil similar to petroleum appears to form in thousands rather than millions of years.
Not all vents and vent communities are alike.

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