Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Hydrogen And Methane Sustain Unusual Life At Sea Floor's 'Lost City'

Date:
March 8, 2005
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
The hydrothermal vents at the ocean bottom were miles from any location scientists could have imagined. One massive seafloor vent was 18 stories tall. All were creamy white and gray, suggesting a very different composition than the hydrothermal vent systems that have been studied since the 1970s.

The top few feet of an actively venting carbonate chimney.
Credit: University of Washington

The hydrothermal vents at the ocean bottom were miles from any location scientists could have imagined. One massive seafloor vent was 18 stories tall. All were creamy white and gray, suggesting a very different composition than the hydrothermal vent systems that have been studied since the 1970s.

Scientists who named the spot Lost City knew they were looking at something never seen before when the field was serendipitously discovered in Dec. 2000, during a National Science Foundation (NSF) expedition to the mid-Atlantic.

This week in the journal Science, researchers publish for the first time findings about the gases produced at Lost City and the organisms that live off of them. Both are so different from so-called black-smoker hydrothermal vents they may provide a whole new avenue for studying the earliest life on Earth as well as looking for signs of life on other planets, according to Deborah Kelley, a University of Washington oceanographer and lead author of the report.

“This finding is an exciting example of NSF’s commitment to discovery through basic research,” said Bilal Haq, director of NSF’s marine geology and geophysics program, which funded the research. “Lost City shows us that geological, chemical and biological processes are intimately linked at a primal environment, and lends strong support to the need for interdisciplinary approaches to scientific research.”

The field was named Lost City in part because it sits on a seafloor mountain named the Atlantis Massif, and because researchers were using the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's vessel Atlantis when the area was discovered. The field is about 300 feet by 1,000 feet, has 30 large vents, some 30 to 200 feet tall, and contains hundreds of smaller structures. Steep cliffs behind the field are shingled with carbonate.

Microorganisms at Lost City live in highly alkaline fluids that are nearly as caustic as drain opener, Kelley says, whereas organisms inhabiting black-smoker vents are well adjusted to acidic fluids..

Further, she says, Lost City microbes appear to live off bountiful methane and hydrogen. But absent is carbon dioxide, the key energy source for life at black-smoker vents. And there is little hydrogen sulfide and only very low traces of metals, a common staple for many of the microbes at the other kind of vents.

According to researchers, a circulation pattern known as serpentinization creates a chemical reaction between seawater and the mantle rock on which Lost City sits and accounts for the differences in living environments in the two vent areas. The resulting fluids are 105 to 170 . At the other kind of field, first discovered in the early 1970s, volcanic activity or magma drives venting and heats fluids to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. The vents at such sites are often referred to as black smokers because some emit hot, mineral-laden fluid that looks like dark, billowing smoke when it hits the icy cold seawater.

Carbonate minerals from fluids at Lost City drape nearby cliffs in brilliant white and form vents ranging in shape from tiny toadstools to the 18-story column, named Poseidon, which dwarfs most known black smoker vents by at least 100 feet. Some places resemble the sort of deposits one might see in spectacular caves with spires and smoothly rippled surfaces in a complex 3-dimensional array, says Duke University’s Jeffrey Karson, co-author of the paper.

Although no one has yet found another field like Lost City, Kelley says she’s sure others exist, because there are so many other places mantle rock has been thrust up through the seafloor, exposing it to seawater and serpentinization.

Perhaps Lost City can provide additional chemical remnants of organisms to help identify ancient life in those rocks or on other planets. “We don’t, in most places, have access to early Earth conditions, so if we can understand the chemical reactions, sources of energy and how fluids circulate through Lost City, it may give us insight into how life started on this planet,” Kelley says.

The work being published was also funded by NASA and a Swiss National Science grant.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Hydrogen And Methane Sustain Unusual Life At Sea Floor's 'Lost City'." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 March 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050307215036.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2005, March 8). Hydrogen And Methane Sustain Unusual Life At Sea Floor's 'Lost City'. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050307215036.htm
National Science Foundation. "Hydrogen And Methane Sustain Unusual Life At Sea Floor's 'Lost City'." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/050307215036.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath

Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath

AP (July 25, 2014) Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe toured the Cherrystone Family Camping and RV Resort on the Chesapeake Bay today, a day after it was hit by a tornado. The storm claimed two lives and injured dozens of others. (July 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

Europe's Highest Train Turns 80 in French Pyrenees

AFP (July 25, 2014) Europe's highest train, the little train of Artouste in the French Pyrenees, celebrates its 80th birthday. Duration: 01:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Goma Cheese Brings Whiff of New Hope to DRC

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 24, 2014) The eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly known for conflict and instability, is an unlikely place for the production of fine cheese. But a farm in the village of Masisi, in North Kivu is slowly transforming perceptions of the area. Known simply as Goma cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch gouda has gained popularity through out the region. Ciara Sutton reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

Bill Gates: Health, Agriculture Key to Africa's Development

AFP (July 24, 2014) Health and agriculture development are key if African countries are to overcome poverty and grow, US software billionaire Bill Gates said Thursday, as he received an honourary degree in Ethiopia. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins