Hydrothermal Vent Creatures | Smithsonian Ocean Portal
Submarine vents in association with magmas at or near mid-ocean ridges are usually described as the likeliest hydrothermal systems to be associated with the emergence of life on Earth (i.e. Corliss et al., 1981, Nisbet and Sleep, 2001). Besides their possible role in the emergence and development of life on Earth, hydrothermal vents could sustain living organisms on Europa or Mars (Pope et al., 2006; Chyba and Phillips, 2007). The most common case for the formation of submarine hydrothermal vents occurs when seawater migrates through fractures into the crust and reaches the vicinity of a magmatic intrusion. While approaching the magmas, water is heated up by the anomalously high thermal gradient induced by their emplacement. Additionally, magmas release aqueous fluids upon their cooling down. Therefore, hydrothermal fluids in magma-related systems may come from either magmatic or marine sources. Similarly, sulfur, iron, copper, zinc and other metals may come from magmas, ocean water or host rock leachates. The dissolved minerals nourish chemosynthetic bacteria that constitute the base of the food chain for a variety of invertebrates, including large tubeworms (Levin, 2009).
HIV life cycle | HHMI BioInteractive
In a process called chemosynthesis, specialized bacteria create energy from the hydrogen sulfide present in the mineral-rich water pouring out of the vents.
Deep Sea vents: Chemosynthesis, the basis of life in the deep sea
A remarkable find when submersables starting probing the deep sea was the presence of extraordinary abundance of life around mid-ocean vents. Previously, scientists believed that little lived at these emense depths. The only food that would have been avaliable was through dead animals floating down from the surface waters. So what was this abundance sustaining itself on?