BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Montana State University researchers have discovered a rare oasis of life in the midst of hundreds of geothermal vents at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake.
A colony of moss, worms and various forms of shrimp flourishes in an area where the water is inky black, about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and a cauldron of nutrients, gases and poisons, the researchers reported in the September issue of Geobiology.
The vent is close to 100 feet below the surface of Yellowstone Lake and a third of a mile offshore in the West Thumb region. The worms and shrimp live among approximately two feet of moss that encircles the vent.
"This particular vent seemed unique relative to all other active vents thus far observed in the lake in that it is robustly colonized by plants," the researchers wrote.
The team explored the lake bottom with a Remotely Operated Vehicle built by the same person who built a much larger rover for exploring the Titanic. The MSU team was led by John Varley in the Big Sky Institute and Tim McDermott and Bill Inskeep in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences and MSU's Thermal Biology Institute.
The researchers said that the Fontinalis moss is not known to grow in the conditions they found on the floor of Yellowstone Lake and that a worm found associated with the moss had never been reported in North America. The researchers also noted that this was the first in-depth published study of the biology associated with any geothermal vent in Yellowstone Lake.
"The proliferation of complex higher organisms in close association with a Yellowstone Lake geothermal vent parallels that documented for deep marine vents, although to our knowledge this is the first such documentation for a freshwater habitat," the researchers wrote in Geobiology.
The vent is evidently responsible for the moss being able to live in what humans perceive as total darkness, but these plants obviously ha
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Montana State University