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Stunning mineral towers discovered on the ocean floor

During an unprecedented study of hydrothermal and gas plumes, researchers led by Dr. Mandy Joye of the University of Georgia discovered large venting mineral towers that reach up to 23 meters in height and 10 meters in length. Even though the minerals were loaded with metals and highly sulfidic fluids, the towers were filled with biodiversity and potentially new animal species.

“We discovered remarkable towers where every surface was occupied by some type of life. The vibrant colors found on the ‘living rocks’ was striking, and reflects a diversity in biological composition as well as mineral distributions,” said Dr. Joye. “This is an amazing natural laboratory to document incredible organisms and better understand how they survive in extremely challenging environments.”

“Unfortunately, even in these remote and beautiful environments we saw copious amounts of trash including fishing nets, deflated Mylar balloons, and even a discarded Christmas trees. This provided a stark juxtaposition next to the spectacular mineral structures and biodiversity.”

The researchers used advanced technology, including 4K deep-sea underwater cameras and radiation tracking devices, for the expedition. They also collected sediment and fluid samples with a remotely operated vehicle, ROV SuBastian.

Image Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

The hydrothermal fluids and gas plume samples all contained highly elevated concentrations of methane, a greenhouse gas that has 30 times the potency of carbon dioxide. The research will provide new insight into how methane is stored in water column and sediment systems.

“It is a different world down there. Each dive feels like floating into a science fiction film,” said Wendy Schmidt, a cofounder of the Schmidt Ocean Institute. “The complex layers of data we’ve collected aboard Falkor during this expedition will help tell the story of this remote place and bring it to public attention. Witnessing these remarkable oceanscapes, we are reminded that although they are out of our everyday sight, they are hardly immune from human impact. Our hope is to inspire people to learn more and care more about our ocean.”

The team will spend the next few months analyzing samples and will share their results publicly. The study authors noted that the work would not have been possible without the considerate authorization of the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs to allow for marine scientific research to be conducted in their waters.

The study was funded by the Schmidt Ocean Institute.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Main Image Credit: Schmidt Ocean Institute

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