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Strange Creatures and Animals that Live near Hydrothermal Vents
Living Creatures Live Near Hydrothermal Vents
Some say that light is the source of life. Did you know that there are strange ocean creatures that live near hydrothermal vents that do not require light to survive? Yet throughout the centuries it has been well known that without light all living animals and plants would die.
Take for instance photosynthesis, the process by which chlorophyll containing plants use the energy of light to manufacture carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water. Additionally, it is thought to be common knowledge that whales float the ocean surface for not only air but light. Anything that interferes with photosynthesis can have harmful consequences; plant life is poor and slow, insects and funguses are prominent, accumulation of winter food is slowed, and growth can completely stop. This was a common belief until recently.
How about the ocean?
How could there be strange ocean creatures and plants that live without light? An example of the importance of light is the "sunshine" vitamin found in both plant, animal, and human tissue. The suns ultraviolet rays activate a form of cholesterol present in the skin and convert it into vitamin D. Although vitamin D can be acquired through ingestion, most foods do not have adequate recommended amounts to sustain health. The National Research Council sets the dietary allowance of vitamin D at 400 I.U.'s per day. Foods that contain high amounts of vitamin D are salmon/sardines at 1,350 IU's ; fruits and vegetables do not contain any vitamin D.
So how could strange undersea creatures survive without vitamin D you get from sunshine? Without an ample supply of vitamin D, bones soften; rickets can form; plus there is weakening of the skull, legs, wrists, and spine; also muscular numbness, tingling, and spasms can develop; poor metabolism, flabbiness, diabetes, nearsightedness, and tooth decay. (Nutritional Almanac) Yet scientists have found new life that is flourishing without a single ounce of vitamin D.
In the past we have concluded that light is necessary for all plant and animal life including humans. It is no wonder that scientists have declared light to be essential to all living matter. But can we conclude that life would cease to exist without light? Is light really the source of life? This was a common belief until now. There are strange undersea creatures that thrives without light and what we know about the ocean has changed.
In 1977, two geologists descended 8,200 feet into the ocean near the Galapago's Islands which is 972 km's west of Ecuador. Their dive was focused on deep sea hot springs and hydrothermal vents. Not only did they find hydrothermal vents but they also found strange undersea life and that light is not the main source of life for all creatures.
Keep in mind that hydrothermal vents are areas where the sea floor is extended apart by volcanic activity and super heated water (750 - 840 F, 400-450 C). Lava bursts from the rifts, forming a new crust and heating the surrounding cold water (34-36 F, 1-2 C). With the mixing of extreme temperatures of water, hydrogen sulfide forms the rocks instantly color the hot jets black (black smokers). (E.K.L. Lerner and B.W. Lerner)
What is even more perplexing is that hydrogen sulfide is usually poisonous to life, plant and animal. Brief exposures to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause a loss of consciousness and possibly death. Exposure can cause permanent or long-term effects such as headaches, poor memory, reduced motor function, and a shortened attention span. How could strange undersea creatures survive these conditions? Light is not the source of life for these underwater animals for they live in a toxic environment that would be life threatening for most living things.
With this discovery, scientists are perplexed and realize that they have slightly began to learn about the ocean and its creatures.
Giant White Tubeworms
It was once thought that the depths of the sea contained no life because there is no sunlight. The two Geologists aboard the Alvin discovered strange creatures and plant-life: reefs of mussels, fields of giant clams, crabs, anemones, large pink fish, and 6 foot white tube-worms with bright red plumes, said geologist John Edmond from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Meadows) How is this possible?
Thus, many questions among scientists were raised. How could any animal or plant live without sunlight. Likewise, how can a creature live off of hydrothermal vents full of hydrogen sulfide? Even more perplexing to scientists are the giant tubeworms that have no mouths, guts, or anuses. How could these creatures live? These strange undersea lifeforms will baffle scientists for years to come.
The first breakthrough in understanding about the ocean was in 1980. Coleen Cavanaugh, a Harvard graduate student surmised that hydrogen sulfide water was teeming with bacteria, giving energy to life forms by oxidizing the water, a process called chemosynthesis. The giant tubeworms with no mouths, guts, or anuses most likely absorb nutrients throughout the skin. Upon dissection of the tubeworm, a sulfur crystal organ that extended 75% of its body was found. This organ is thought to be used to detoxify the sulfide that would be fatal to most animals. (Meadows)
At first Cavanaugh (now on the faculty at Harvard), was not taken seriously by other biologists. They did no believe that the strange undersea creature could actually exist. But her persistence and previous experience with a 2 year study of sulfide rich salt marshes on the coast of Cape Cod paid off. More research was made and eventually Cavanaugh's hypothesis became real. As well, Cavanaugh found that the 10 inch clams and other mollusks have symbiotic bacteria in their gills which chemo synthesize hydrogen sulfide. (Meadows)
More Than 100 Species Thrive Without Light
Today, biologists have found more than 100 species of strange undersea life that absorb their nutrients through their skin. Many of these creatures depend upon a sulfide environment (Meadows) and not on light for the source of life.
Hydrogen sulfide is not the only poisonous gas that deep sea creatures live on. Cavanaugh and other researchers have discovered that several marine vertebrates can get their energy from methane, also found near hydrothermal vents and in cold springs off the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. (Meadows)
Astonishing theories and answers about the ocean lies in our hydrothermal vents here on earth and on other planets. Many Astrogeologists and Astrobiologists claim that life may have originated from hydrothermal activity.
Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa, both have liquid water and volcanic activity beneath its surface, which indicates hydrothermal vents. (E.K.L. Lerner and B.W. Lerner) Is it possible that there is life now forming on two planets in our own galaxy and that light is not the source of life on these planets?
2010: New ocean life near deep sea hydrothermal vents was discovered off the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. Marine biologists Alex Rogers and Jon Copley report that it is the lushest, richest vents, in terms of life, that they have come across. Some of the discoveries include a white-grey octopus, snails, a sea star with seven legs, yeti crab, sea anemones and barnacles.
Dr. Alex Rogers is the Scientific Director of International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford,. He is also currently the Commissioner for the International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems for the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE International).
Dr. Jon Copely is a marine ecology specialist at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS). His work focuses on patterns of diversity and abundance in communities occupying insular marine habitats such as hydrothermal vents and cold seeps.
Geothermal Deep-ocean Vents. World of Earth Science. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. Thomson Gale, 2003. eNotes.com. 2006. 12 Oct, 2006
Life without Light: Discoveries from the Abyss., Smithsonian Nation Zoological Park, ZooGoer . Robin Meadows; May/June 1996:
Life without Light: Discoveries from the Abyss. National Zoo: ZooGoer 1996 volume 3