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Ocean floor geysers warm flowing sea water
Date:9/22/2008

An international team of earth scientists report movement of warmed sea water through the flat, Pacific Ocean floor off Costa Rica. The movement is greater than that off midocean volcanic ridges. The finding suggests possible marine life in a part of the ocean once considered barren.

With about 71 percent of the Earth's surface being ocean, much remains unknown about what is under the sea, its geology, and the life it supports. A new finding reported by American, Canadian and German earth scientists suggests a rather unremarkable area off the Costa Rican Pacific coast holds clues to better understand sea floor ecosystems.

Carol Stein, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a member of the research team that has studied the region, located between 50 and 150 miles offshore and covering an area the size of Connecticut. The sea floor, some two miles below, is marked by a collection of about 10 widely separated outcrops or mounts, rising from sediment covering crust made of extinct volcanic rock some 20-25 million years old.

Stein and her colleagues found that seawater on this cold ocean floor is flowing through cracks and crevices faster and in greater quantity than what is typically found at mid-ocean ridges formed by rising lava. Water temperatures, while not as hot as by the ridge lava outcrops, are surprisingly warm as well.

Finding so much movement in a bland area of the ocean was surprising.

"It's like finding Old Faithful in Illinois," said Stein. "When we went out to try to get a feel for how much heat was coming from the ocean floor and how much sea water might be moving through it, we found that there was much more heat than we expected at the outcrops."

The water gushing from sea floor protrusions warms as it moves through the insulated volcanic rock and picks up heat.

"It's relatively warm and may have some of the nutrients needed to supp
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Contact: Paul Francuch
francuch@uic.edu
312-996-3457
University of Illinois at Chicago
Source:Eurekalert

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