The bizarre hydrothermal vent field discovered a little more than two years ago surprised scientists not only with vents that are the tallest ever seen – the one thats 18 stories dwarfs most vents at other sites by at least 100 feet – but also because the fluids forming these vents are heated by seawater reacting with million-year-old mantle rocks, not by young volcanism.
A 3-foot-wide ledge or flange made of carbonate juts out from the side of a 160-foot chimney in the Lost City hydrothermal vent field. The chimney and flange are made of minerals dissolved in 160 F fluids that flow out of the seafloor and then precipitate when the fluids hit the icy cold seawater.
Photo credit: University of Washington
The remarkable Lost City hydrothermal vent field, so named partly because it sits on a seafloor mountain named the Atlantis Massif, was discovered in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean about 1,500 miles off the East Coast of the United States during an expedition that wasnt even looking for hydrothermal vents.
Now the two scientists who were the first to travel in a submersible to the field after its serendipitous discovery Dec. 4, 2000, are leading a National Science Foundation-funded expedition to map and farther investigate the field. A Web site launched today at http://www.lostcity.washington.edu/ will follow the 32-day expedition that starts April 21.
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