There is an alien world beneath the surface of the oceans. While almost all the life on earth requires heat from the sun to survive, life on these hydrothermal vents is geothermally heated by the earth inside. Here and elsewhere in the deep sea more and more deep-sea creatures are still being discovered.

Hydrothermal vents are often found around volcanically active places. They are where the tectonic plates are moving apart in ocean basins, hotspots, and spreading centers. They are often very difficult to visit, if one would like to visit, then contact deep-sea specialties with deep-sea submersibles like Waterproof Expeditions (it will not be cheap).

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The Discovery Of Hydrothermal Vents

In 1977 scientists discovered hydrothermal vents - at first, they noticed a series of temperature spikes in their data. Water would go from near freezing to a toasty 400 °C (750 °F). As they investigated they found deep-sea hydrothermal vents with an entirely unique ecosystem. It included hundreds of new species existing around the vents.

  • Discovery: In 1977 Near Galapagos

They found that these creatures there thriving despite the extreme temperatures, pressures, the lack of sunlight, and toxic minerals. It was a completely alien world.

  • Hydrothermal Vents: Much Like Geysers or Hot Springs - Just On The Ocean Floor

The discovery and study of these alien watery ecosystems in extreme environments independent of the sun have redefined our understanding of the requirements for life.

  • Origin Of Life: Could Have Begun At Thermal Vents

Hydrothermal vents have even raised the question of whether life actually began there.

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Dr. Maggie Georgieva, a vent researcher at the Museum states that:

"...hydrothermal vents are a likely candidate for the origin of life on Earth."

Related: 15 Pics Of Strange Things Actually Found On The Ocean Floor (10 On Beaches)

What Hydrothermal Vents Are

Hydrothermal deposits are made of rocks and mineral ore deposits that are formed by the action of the vents. Under the sea, they may form features called white smokers or black smokers.

  • Two Types of Vents: Black Smokers and White Smokers

Black smokers have the hottest and darkest plumes. These can form chimneys up to 55 meters or 180 feet tall and are high in sulfur.

  • Height: Up to 180 Feet or 55 Meters

The white smokers are more lightly colored and are rich barium, calcium, and silicon. They emit cooler plumes and have smaller chimneys.

  • On Other Planets and Moons: Active Hydrothermal Vents Are Thought to Exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus, Jupiter's moon Europa, to Have Once Existed On Mars

As seawater circulates deep in the ocean's crust it becomes super-heated by hot magma in places along the mid-ocean ridges.

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As the superheated seawater moves through the crust, it pickups dissolved gases and minerals. Because of the high temperature of the water, these become buoyant and are expelled through the vents. But then the water quickly cools down as it comes into contact with the much larger cooler water around it. The minerals then precipitate and form a solid structure on the seabed called the vent chimney.

Related: 25 Pictures Of Mysterious Underwater Locations From The Deep Sea

The Unique Ecosystems On Hydrothermal Vents

Hydrothermal vents are often biologically productive and host complex communities that are fueled by the rich chemicals dissolved in the vent fluids. At the base of the food chain are chemosynthetic bacteria and archaea.

  • Chemosynthesis: Similar To Photosynthesis But Used The Chemicals From the Vent Instead of The Light Energy From the Sun

These bacteria are able to convert the toxic vent minerals into usable forms of energy through a process called chemosynthesis. Chemosynthesis is the process where chemical energy is used to convert carbon dioxide into sugar (aka food). These then support other organisms like giant tube worms, limpets, shrimp, and clams.

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Despite the scalding heat of sometimes over 400°C (four times the boiling point of water), the environment around the vents is a paradise for a range of organisms. Just a little away from these extreme temperatures the water is only around 20°C or so and a nice environment for many of these creatures.

  • Unique Creatures: It Seems Some Creatures Are Found Only At The Thermal Vents

Animals in the deep sea have evolved to live here and are well adapted to these extreme conditions. Some species seem to have become fully reliant on these thermal vents. Some of the animals found living at these vents include:

  • Scaly-foot Gastropods: Only Recorded At The Vents
  • Yeti Crabs: Only Recorded At The Vents
  • Vent Mussels: Found In Large Colonies At The Vents
  • Tube Worms: Found In Living There
  • Pompeii Worm: One of The Most Heat-Resistant Multicellular Animals On Earth - Can Withstand Temperature Spikes of Over 80°C (Most Species Can't Stand 40°C)
  • Microorganisms: Some Can Survive In Temperatures of Around 120°C

It remains difficult to explore these unique habitats and requires specialist equipment.

Next: 25 Underwater Discoveries That'll Make Us Want To Stay On Dry Land