Hundreds of towering hydrothermal chimneys discovered on seafloor off Washington

Posted: May 5, 2020 by oldbrew in exploration, Geology, Ocean dynamics

Base of “black smoker” chimney, Pacific Ocean [image credit: USGS]

How many more such discoveries could be waiting to be made? The report says ‘Geologic evidence…suggests that hydrothermal activity is part of a cycle that reshapes the seafloor over many thousands of years’.

An autonomous diving robot captured the vents in unprecedented detail, reports Live Science.

In the dark ocean depths off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, a magical fairyland of towering spires and hydrothermal chimneys sprout from the seafloor, a stunning new underwater map reveals.

These towers belch superheated liquid warmed by magma deep inside Earth.

The field of hydrothermal chimneys stretches along the ocean bottom on the Juan de Fuca Ridge to the northwest of coastal Washington state, in an area known as the Endeavor Segment.

Research on the Endeavor vents began in the 1980s, and scientists had previously identified 47 chimneys in five major vent fields.

But recent expeditions, using an autonomous underwater vehicle operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) revealed more than 500 chimneys in a zone about 9 miles (14 kilometers) long and 1 mile (2 km) wide.

Deep-sea chimneys form around hydrothermal vents from a buildup of minerals that flow to the surface in heated liquid — as hot as 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius). As hot liquid meets cold seawater, minerals precipitate and settle around the vent, collecting to form towers that can reach impressive heights.

At the Endeavor Segment, “abundant and vigorous” hydrothermal activity has transformed the seafloor for approximately 2,300 years, and periods of intense seismic vibration shake things up even more, according to a new study on the MBARI expedition.

Chimneys that climb from Endeavor are among the tallest in any mid-ocean ridge; the biggest ever documented, a top-heavy tower known affectionately as “Godzilla,” extended 150 feet (45 meters) from the seafloor, but it crumbled in 1995.

Continued here.

  1. But of course they do not heat the oceans, only C02 emissions do that.

  2. Jim says:

    The part I really liked, was this was a new report, of the research done in 2014. Assides from the timing, was this a way to avoid a general science question. Or, just a exposure of a then new robotic maping system? Interesting article, but, where is the tie in to other programs of Earth science? Or corrections to?

  3. oldbrew says:

    Hydrothermal vents trigger massive phytoplankton blooms in the Southern Ocean (2019)

    Hydrothermal activity is significant in regulating the dynamics of trace elements in the ocean. Biogeochemical models suggest that hydrothermal iron might play an important role in the iron-depleted Southern Ocean by enhancing the biological pump. However, the ability of this mechanism to affect large-scale biogeochemistry and the pathways by which hydrothermal iron reach the surface layer have not been observationally constrained. Here we present the first observational evidence of upwelled hydrothermally influenced deep waters stimulating massive phytoplankton blooms in the Southern Ocean. Captured by profiling floats, two blooms were observed in the vicinity of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, downstream of active hydrothermal vents along the Southwest Indian Ridge. These hotspots of biological activity are supported by mixing of hydrothermally sourced iron stimulated by flow-topography interactions. Such findings reveal the important role of hydrothermal vents on surface biogeochemistry, potentially fueling local hotspot sinks for atmospheric CO2 by enhancing the biological pump. [bold added]

  4. Gamecock says:

    Nothing new here. They found more of the same.

    When you hear talk about sea level, remember that our knowledge of the oceans – the container – is limited. Attribution of sea level changes without knowledge of the changes to the basin is pure speculation.

    ‘an autonomous underwater vehicle operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’

    Autonomous. Operated by. Duh.

  5. Tim Spence says:

    Could these be linked to the phenomenon known as the ‘Blob’, they’re in the general area.
    Good point about sea level Gamecock, there are at least 9,000 active volcanos under water (and probably significantly more) also, untold quantities of smokers, all venting gases and lava.