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Montana State team finds rare oasis of life on floor of Yellowstone Lake
Date:10/4/2010

ve the ability to somehow find and use very low light, Varley said. At times, the scene around the vent looks like it belongs in a snow globe because of a beige-colored silica and aluminum mineral that flies out of the vent and settles on the moss, which further lessens the ability of the moss to acquire light that is essential for it to photosynthesize. Key to the survival, indeed proliferation, of this moss in this unusual environment are the nutrients contained in the vent water. The nutrients feed the moss, which feed the shrimp and worms. The vent water also contains toxins such as arsenic and cadmium. It's super-saturated with carbon dioxide, hydrogen and other gases.

"If there are gases of that type anywhere else in Yellowstone, it follows that there would be life that has been introduced and evolved there that uses those resources," Varley said.

The researchers explored the bottom of Yellowstone Lake from onboard the R/V Cutthroat, a National Park Service boat, Varley said. Using a map created by Lisa Morgan with the U.S. Geological Survey, they noted that the lake contains hundreds of active and dormant vents. Scientists have mapped the lake bottom three times over the last 136 years, but studies of the biology around the vents have been extremely limited.

The vents are mostly on the northern half of the lake, inside the Yellowstone caldera, and span from the West Thumb region to Mary Bay. The lake bottom is probably the third largest geothermal field in the park. It is estimated to contribute 10 percent of the total geothermal output in the park, as well as 15 percent of the water that's in Yellowstone Lake, Varley said.

Despite the geothermal activity, the lake is "still one cold son of a gun," Varley said, noting that the waters' surface rarely gets above 64 F.

Researchers used a Remotely Operated Vehicle specially designed for the task by Dave Lovalvo of Eastern Oceanics Research. About half the size of a hou
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Contact: Evelyn Boswell
evelynb@montana.edu
406-994-5135
Montana State University
Source:Eurekalert

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