Hydrothermal vents and cold seeps are some of the most enigmatic and well known of the deep-sea environments. The discovery of these habitats and their associated life in the 1970s revolutionized our understanding of how and where life can exist on Earth. Vents and seeps are areas where chemical-rich fluid emanates from the deep-sea floor, providing the energy to sustain extensive communities of life in the harsh conditions that exist in the deep sea (no light, very low temperatures and very high pressures). Bacteria create organic carbon via chemosynthesis in the absence of light, using the chemicals in the fluid, in a similar way to plants, which use sunlight at the sea surface for photosynthesis. These microbes use the oxygen in seawater to oxidize the chemicals present in the vent and seep fluids and form the basis of the food chain at these environments. These bacteria form thick white mats or live endosymbiotically (inside) many of the animals that call vents and seeps their home. Vents and seeps are remarkable for their abundance of life and their wealth of species new to science.
I have been fortunate to work at several vent and seep sites including the world’s deepest vents and the most southerly vents. Read more about my the hydrothermal-vent and cold-seep cruises I’ve participated in here, here and here.