Scientists discover five new hydrothermal vents in Pacific Ocean

Credit: Lehigh University.

A recent ocean exploration has led to a thrilling discovery: five new hydrothermal vents in the eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, found at a depth of 2,550 meters (approximately 1.6 miles) beneath the ocean’s surface.

This expedition, led by Jill McDermott, a faculty member at Lehigh University and director of Lehigh Oceans Research Center, concluded successfully with the team returning to San Diego on March 26.

Hydrothermal vents are underwater geysers that release extremely hot fluids exceeding 300°C (570°F).

These vents are not only fascinating geological features but also host unique ecosystems teeming with life that can survive extreme conditions.

This discovery was made possible through a collaborative effort between human divers and advanced robotic technology.

The team used the Sentry, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s National Deep Submergence Facility (NDSF). Sentry was deployed at night to map the seafloor, creating high-resolution images of the underwater terrain.

Following the nighttime mapping, the data from Sentry was used each morning to guide dives by the human-occupied submarine Alvin, also operated by WHOI-NDSF.

This submarine allows scientists to observe underwater environments directly, providing valuable insights into the dynamic and complex nature of the ocean floor along the East Pacific Rise—a major underwater mountain range formed by tectonic plates moving apart.

Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in 1977, and since then, they have significantly altered our understanding of possible life-supporting environments on Earth and potentially other planets.

These vents support vibrant ecosystems that thrive without sunlight, relying instead on the chemicals emitted by the vents, which serve as a source of energy.

The East Pacific Rise, where these new vents were found, is a hotspot for volcanic activity and is home to many such hydrothermal sites.

These vents play a crucial role in our planet’s geology and biology by releasing heat and chemicals from beneath the Earth’s crust into the ocean.

The discovery of these new vents adds valuable data to our understanding of how hydrothermal systems operate and their impact on the ocean’s chemistry and biology.

Daniel Fornari, a marine geologist from WHOI involved in the research for over 40 years, emphasized the importance of the new maps created by Sentry.

These maps help target specific areas for sample collection, allowing scientists to study the lava flows and their influence on hydrothermal activity in detail.

The researchers are planning a follow-up expedition to further explore the hydrothermal activity and volcanic processes along the East Pacific Rise.

This continued study will enhance our knowledge of the deep-sea environments and the fundamental processes that shape our planet, highlighting the critical role of such expeditions in expanding our understanding of Earth’s hidden frontiers.