Well inside the Arctic Circle, scientists have found black smoker vents farther north than anyone has ever seen before. The cluster of five vents one towering nearly four stories in height are venting water as hot as 570 F.
Dissolved sulfide minerals that solidify when vent water hits the icy cold of the deep sea have, over the years, accumulated around the vent field in what is one of the most massive hydrothermal sulfide deposits ever found on the seafloor, according to Marvin Lilley, a University of Washington oceanographer. He's a member of an expedition led by Rolf Pedersen, a geologist with the University of Bergen's Centre for Geobiology, aboard the research vessel G.O. Sars.
The vents are located at 73 degrees north on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Greenland and Norway. That's more than 120 miles from the previous northernmost vents found during a 2005 expedition, also led by Pedersen. Other scientists have detected plumes of water from hydrothermal vents even farther north but have been unable to find the vent fields on the seafloor to image and sample them.
In recent years scientists have been interested in knowing how far north vigorous venting extends. That's because the ridges where such fields form are so stable up north, usually subject only to what scientists term "ultra-slow" spreading. That's where tectonic forces are pulling the seafloor apart at a rate as little as 6/10th of an inch in a year. This compares to lower latitudes where spreading can be up to eight times that amount, and fields of hydrothermal vents are much more common.
"We hadn't expected a lot of active venting on ultra-slow spreading ridges," Lilley said.
The active chimneys in the new field are mostly black and covered with white mats of bacteria feasting on the minerals emitted by the vents. Older chimneys are mottled red as a result of iron oxidization. All are the result of seawater seeping into the seafloor, coming near fiery magma and
|Contact: Sandra Hines|
University of Washington