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Deep-Sea Biology  

Hyrdrothermal Vents and Seeps
by Professor Paul Yancey

 

Overview

Also see the Cold Seeps and Vents section.


Vent chimneys with tubeworms on the Juan de Fuca Ridge.
The tops of the chimneys are too
hot for animals.
Click for larger image

Hydrothermal Vents

These are oceanic hot springs in volcanically active areas; they are mostly deep and along the midocean ridges in the rift valleys that form from seafloor spreading (but sometimes they are shallow, e.g., near Iceland or volcanic islands in the Mediterranean.

The Mid-Atlantic Ridge emerges above sealevel in Iceland, where there are hot springs and geysers instead of hydrothermal vents).

At the deep-sea vents, hot (up to 400oC) mineral-laden water provides abundant energy, mostly as H2S (rotten-egg-smelling hydrogen sulfide). Bacteria and archaea use H2S for energy, forming the basis of the food chain. Vesicomyid clams, mussels and vestimentiferan tubeworms with symbionts are found here (relatives of those found at cold seeps).


The Mid-Atlantic Ridge rift valley above sealevel in Iceland.
The left side is headed towards North America, the right side towards Europe
Photo by Carrie Laxson
Click for larger image.
   

The microbes use a process called chemosynthesis (see ONR site for more information). Limpets, snails and other worms graze on microbial mats and filaments. Fish, octopods and crabs are carnivores and scavengers.

Our studies are on adaptation of vent animals to high pressure and toxic sulfide. We have used specimens provided by Drs. G. Somero (Stanford), C. Fisher (Penn State), R. Lee (WSU), C. Van Dover (William and Mary); and 2007/2008 specimens collected by me and colleagues on the Juan de Fuca Ridge off Washington State in Alvin studies lead by Dr. Ray Lee of Washington State University.

A. Juan de Fuca Ridge--Endeavour Segment: our 2007 and 2008 expeditions led by Drs. Ray Lee (Wash. State Univ.) and Peter Girguis (Harvard) with the ALVIN aboard the R/V Atlantis. Click here for a NOAA map of the Ridge.

Locations on the Ridge

1. Mothra/Faulty Towers 2. Main Endeavour; Clambed 3. Middle Valley 4. Rift Valley floor (Endeavour)
5. Animals Collected

Area map
Click for larger image

1. Mothra/Faulty Towers site,
Juan de Fuca Ridge; 2.3km deep (click here for more on Faulty Towers)
Click pictures for larger images.

Chimneys/smokers at Faulty Towers (with names like Roane, Giraffe, etc). Note that ROANE (5th image, top) was decapitated by UW in 1998 for analysis of microbial life (it is now on display in the Amer. Museum of Natl. history).
Chimneys/smokers at Faulty Towers (with names like Roane, Giraffe, etc). Note that ROANE (5th image, top) was decapitated by UW in 1998 for analysis of microbial life (it is now on display in the Amer. Museum of Natl. history). A smoker chimney being collected with Alvin claw; JUST
The chimney on the ship, broken open to reveal lining of Iron pyrite (Fool's Gold) crystals More towers
More towers
More towers Vent snails B. thermophilus
Unidentified jelly! Crab on tower Snails on tower P. sulfincola; Ridgeia Ridgeia close-up
       
Ridgeia "bush"        
 
2. Main Endeavour Site of the Ridge
2.2 km deep; Hulk and Dante edifices; also Clambed site north of Main
Click pictures for larger images.
White and black smoker chimneys, some with tubeworms (most at Dante formation)
White and black smoker chimneys, some with tubeworms (most at Dante formation) Alvin sampling black smoker water
Hulk formation More smoker formations (Dante)
More smoker formations (Dante) Crab, orange mat, tubeworms Ridgeia tubeworm colonies; rightmost one is of long-skinny form at Clambed vent site
Ridgeia tubeworm colonies; rightmost one is of long-skinny form at Clambed vent site Fish with vent snails
       
Paralvinella palmiformis        
 
3. Middle Valley region
Just off the Juan de Fuca Ridge; 2.4 km deep

Click pictures for larger images.
White smoker chimneys Sulfide Seep (see below left)
Sulfide Seep with unnamed species of Vesicomyid clams
(see close-up of clam in Animals section below)
Bathyraja skate Ridgeia tubeworm 'bush' Venus flytrap anemone
 
Graneledone octopod near Middle Valley site Unidentified cucumbers in Middle Valley  
 
4. Rift Valley seafloor
Endeavour Segment of Juan de Fuca Ridge

Click pictures for larger images.
Lava formations on the Juan de Fuca rift valley floor (Endeavour segment)
Lava formations on the Juan de Fuca rift valley floor (Endeavour segment) Animals
Animals seen on the rift valley floor (coral, fishes, skate eggcases, octopods)
   
Animals seen on the rift valley floor (coral, fishes, skate eggcases, octopods)    
 
5. Animals
brought back on Alvin to the ship from the Juan de Fuca ridge.
Click pictures for larger images.
Paralvinella worms in vent chimneys Ridgeia, LS (long-skinny) form Ridgeia, the SF (short-fat) form
Ridgeia, the SF (short-fat) form; shown dissected in the 2 righthand images Paralvinella palmiformis
Paralvinella sulfincola Scale worms in Ray Lee's pressure chamber Scale worms (covered with bacterial filaments, below left)
Scale worms Maldonid (bamboo) worm Limpet Lepidodrilus

Limpet ?
Juan de Fuca vent mussel? A rare specimen Unnamed species of Vesicomyid clam
from Middle Valley seeps
Anemone near Middle Valley seeps Pycnogonid
Pycnogonid (male carrying eggs) B. thermophilus vent snail with limpet Graneledone octopod from Middle Valley Galatheid crab from Middle Valley
     
Vent ciliate! (single-celled protozoa that form tubes to make a blue mat)      
 
B. Mediterranean Sea; Mid-Atlantic Ridge; East Pacific Rise
Click pictures for larger images.
A shallow hydrothermal vent
off Vulcano, an Italian island in the Mediterranean. Note the sulfur deposits. For the deeper vents on the mid-ocean ridges, see: ONR site for animations, pictures, detailed information.
Bathymodiolus mussel from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (provided by Cindy Van Dover). These have bacterial symbionts in their gills. Rimicaris shrimp from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (provided by Cindy Van Dover). These unique animals swim in and out of hot vents, have no eyestalks, but have unique eyepatches on their backs. Dr. Van Dover hypothesizes that these sense faint light (either infrared or from chemiluminescent reactions) from the vents. The most "famous" animals of the hydrothermal vents are the giant Riftia tubeworms (vestimentiferans; Siboglinid family of polychaetes). They are up to 2 m (6 feet) long! They have no guts, and live off their symbionts (see Seep Tubeworm for more on this process).

For better pictures and a video, see U. Delaware Tubeworm site and Peter Batson's photos below.

       
C. Peter Batson's Photos
Below are copyrighted photos courtesy ofPeter Batson, author of Deep New Zealand - Blue Water, Black Abyss. Please contact him for permission at his website, ExploreTheAbyss. See MIDWATER page for more of his photos.
Click pictures for larger images.
Alvinella, a polychaete tubeworm that may be able to live in water of 50oC or higher. Tevnia, a small vestimentiferan tubeworm often found with Riftia. A plume of Riftia (see description of these tubeworms under my photo, above right) A Riftia body out of its tube Brittle stars, limpets at a vent
   
Thermarces fish at a vent Munidopsis galatheid crab Bythograea crab at a vent    
 
 
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