In the Gulf of California, off the coast of La Paz, Mexico, lies a mysterious world where scorching hot water oozes from 80-foot-high (24-meter) hills and iridescent worms along the sea floor. Scientists recently discovered this hydrothermal wonder, and as they explored the area, they also found at least six potential new animal species that had never been seen before.
The international team, which included scientists from both the United States and Mexico, made the final expedition aboard a 272-foot (83 m) research vessel called the Folkor, according to the statment From the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI). From the ship, the team deployed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), called the SuBastian, to collect samples of hydrothermal vent fluid, mud, rock and marine life and to capture ultra-high-resolution videos. Using the ship’s sonar system, the team mapped out areas of the sea floor that will be explored more closely on future cruises.
Previous expeditions, conducted in 2012, 2015 and 2018, laid the foundation for this 2021 cruise, said David Karis, the expedition’s chief scientist and principal engineer of seafloor mapping at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). In 2018, the same expedition team used an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) — a yellow torpedo-shaped robot with a propeller at one end — to map the seafloor using sonar.
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In the resolution an AUV can achieve, you can specify the general features of the hydrothermal vents, but “until you remove an ROV, you don’t know it’s currently active,” Caress told Live Science. So this time around, the team investigated these features more closely with the ROV and discovered a large number of active vents spewing water as high as 549 degrees Fahrenheit (287 degrees Celsius).
Hydrothermal vents usually form in areas where there are two tectonic plates Karis said they are moving away from each other. In these areas, sea water seeps through cracks in Earthcrust and close contact with the hot mantle below; The water quickly heats up and shoots back toward the surface, creating an air vent.
At most hydrothermal vents, the liquid coming out of the vent turns black, because on its way to the surface, the water comes into contact with dark basalt rock formed from cooled magma and picks up minerals, such as iron. Most of the hydrothermal vent discovered and studied takes the form of these ‘black smokers,’ referring to the nickname of these vents. But interestingly, in the Pescadero Basin, a depression at the southern end of the Gulf of California, hydrothermal vents expel A clear, shiny liquid, the expedition team found.
This likely occurs because a huge amount of sediment from mainland Mexico ends up in the Gulf of California, and these sediments change fluids as they make their way to the surface. “The hydrothermal fluids start to react with the basalt…but then they have to seep through the sediment,” Karis said. This process strips the fluid of basalt and minerals and replaces them with carbonates, including minerals such as limestone, giving the fluid its unusual appearance.
This process also makes the liquid less acidic than that produced by black smokers and causes the resulting vents to take on unique structures. Instead of forming chimney-like structures dozens of feet high, the openings in the Pescadero Basin tend to form ridge-like structures called ledges. The hydrothermal fluid collects under the rim and spills onto its lip, creating a kind of reverse waterfall. And when the ledges accumulate a lot of limestone, it collapses under its own weight, forming enormous piles. At the sites they surveyed, Karis said, some mounds were about 164 feet (50 meters) wide and 82 feet (25 meters) long.
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After the expedition, some researchers will now work to better understand the geological and chemical properties of these unique vents. Others will create computer models of a larger underground system feeding all the hatches from below.
“I like to compare it to the plumbing of the system,” said Raquel Negret-Aranda, chief scientist involved in the expedition and a geophysicist and marine geologist at the Ensenada Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education in Baja California. As the ROV dived, Negrete-Aranda and her colleagues measured temperature gradients on the sea floor and also collected data on the sediment’s thermal conductivity. She said this information, along with geochemical data, will help scientists understand how and where the vent fields get their supply of super-hot water.
There are two adjacent aeration fields in the Pescadero Basin, and “I have a strong feeling that they are somehow connected,” which means they are connected under the Earth’s crust, Negrit Aranda told Live Science. “But … it’s too early to say, ‘As her lab is still processing all the numbers.’”
While some scholars focused on geology and chemistry From the openings, others focused on the diverse organisms living nearby. blue worms (Peinaleopolynoe orphanae), which bears shiny iridescent scales, crawling all over one orifice. The team named this hole “Melsuu,” which means “blue” in the Kiliwa dialect of the indigenous Baja Californians, according to an SOI statement.
During the expedition, the team discovered 10 known animal species that had not been spotted before in the Pescadero Basin. They also found at least six potential new species of crustaceans, mollusks, roundworms, stockworms, and bristle- or multi-spinned worms, according to the SOI statement.
These organisms were classified as a ‘potential’ new species until more comprehensive animal examinations were carried out. Genetics Morphology can confirm again in the lab that it has not been characterized before. However, this species identification work has already begun aboard the ship, Karis said. For example, after an ROV carried a load of mud from the sea floor, Greg Ross, a researcher who studies invertebrates and animal biodiversity, examined the sediments for tiny worms and identified all those that might be new. for scholars.
In addition to searching for animals such as snails, worms, anemones and crabs, one arm of the research team focused on microscopic life. Bacterial mats grow near the openings, and because different microbes thrive under slightly different conditions, bacteria grow in distinct gradations, turning colors from white to gray to blue. Scientists plan to examine microbes DNA and culture samples in their laboratories, in order to better understand the environmental conditions that each species needs to survive.
So even though the expedition is over, the data collected during the expedition will keep the team busy for years to come. It is hoped, within the next few years, that researchers will return to the Gulf of California to continue exploring hydrothermal vents in the relatively obscure regions north of Pescadero, Karis said.
Originally published on Live Science.