June 15th, 2016
Deep beneath the surface of Caribbean Sea exists a gently spreading seafloor, home to the deepest hydrothermal vents yet discovered and 500 new species of sea creatures. Far from the sunlight that penetrates the surface of the ocean, these newly documented species rely upon the Earth’s volcanic energy to reproduce and survive, a process known as chemosynthesis.
Among the chemosynthetic organisms discovered were alvinocaridid shrimp. These pale, sun-starved shrimp congregate in droves around vent chimneys and along crevices putting off visible magma flow. Chemosynthesis is the biological conversion of one or more carbon molecules (carbon dioxide or methane) into organic matter using the oxidation of inorganic molecules (hydrogen gas, hydrogen sulfide) or methane as a source of energy, rather than the sunlight used in photosynthesis.
In 1890, Sergei Nikolaevich Winogradsky first proposed a novel life process called chemosynthesis. Winogradsky discovered that microbes could live solely on inorganic matter like sulfur, iron, and nitrogen bacteria. His work was confirmed in the field decades later, when hydrothermal ocean vents were discovered in 1970s. Alvin, the world’s first deep-sea submersible, found hydrothermal vents teeming with previously undocumented organisms in 1977 at the Galapagos Rift, a volcanic hotspot in the Pacific Ocean.
This footage from the first exploration of the Beebe Vent Field (~5000 meters deep) and the Von Damm Vent Field (~2300 meters deep) in the Cayman Trough of the Caribbean, was taken during RRS James Cook Voyage 44.
Image: Connelly DP, et al
Source: Connelly DP, Copley JT, Murton BJ, Stansfield K, Tyler PA, German CR, Van Dover CL, Amon D, Furlong M, Grindlay N, Hayman N, Hühnerbach V, Judge M, Le Bas T, McPhail S, Meier A, Nakamura K, Nye V, Pebody M, Pedersen RB, Plouviez S, Sands C, Searle RC, Stevenson P, Taws S, & Wilcox S (2012). ‘Hydrothermal Vent Fields and Chemosynthetic Biota on the World’s Deepest Seafloor Spreading Centre’ Nature communications, 3 PMID: 22233630