Odd life forms found in undersea ‘Lost City’

From the Associated Press:

Lostcity_1Towering white mineral chimneys mark the field, named the Lost City, a sharp contrast to the better-known black smoker vents that have been studied in recent years. The discovery shows “how little we know about the ocean,” lead researcher Deborah S. Kelley of the University of Washington said. “I have been working on black smokers for about 20 years, and you sort of think you have a good idea what going on,” she said in a telephone interview. “But the ocean is a big place and there are still important opportunities for discovery.”

The Lost City was discovered by accident in 2000 as Kelley and others studied undersea areas near the midocean ridge. They returned to the area in 2003 to analyze what they had found and were startled to learn how different the new vent environment and its residents were from the ones studied before.

Black smokers are chimney-like structures that form when very hot water — reaching 700 degrees Fahrenheit — breaks through the ocean floor and comes into contact with frigid ocean water. The minerals that crystallize during the process give the chimneys their black color. At Lost City, on the other hand, the temperature of the escaping fluids is 150 degrees to 170 degrees. The environment is extremely alkaline, compared to the high acid levels at black smokers. A variety of unusual creatures have been discovered around black smoker vents, including tubeworms that can grow as long as eight feet.

Their findings are reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.