Hydrothermal vents and seamounts of the Azores
The hydrothermal vents and seamounts of the Azores (Portuguese: fontes hidrotermais e montes submarinos dos Açores) are a series of seamounts which part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and extensive field of hydrothermal vents located in the Azores. Made up of large masses of basalt typical of mid-ocean regions, these formations, in addition to their geomorphological interest (as rich deposits of ores), are homes to a rich biodiversity of plant and animal life on Earth. They contain food chains whose primary production is purely chemosynthetic, independent of sunlight, and photosynthesis.
Efforts are being made to classify these areas as protected marine areas under the Convention for the Protection of the North Mid-Atlantic (OSPAR Convention) and in accordance with the requirements of the Habitats Directive. The World Wildlife Fund recognizes these efforts, awarding the Azorean regional government with the honorific "Gift to the Earth" prize for their contribution to the preservation of these marine ecosystems. The Azores have an extensive marine area with a variety of seamounts and submarine volcanoes, representing the highest peaks of a complex chain of seamounts located in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that are home to a diverse group of living creatures.
The isolated Dom João de Castro Bank, located between São Miguel and Terceira, is one such seamount included in this group. The hydrothermal vents located near it provide a good place to study the creatures that live in volcanic habitats.
The Azores also provide a good place to study deep-ocean hydrothermal vents. Deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, situated along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, have been the target of various investigative projects by many types of scientists. Recently, some interesting communities of living creatures were discovered in the "Lucky Strike" and in the "Menez Gwen" hydrothermal fields, both located in the Azores Exclusive Economic Zone.
"Lucky Strike" is the largest known hydrothermal field, with 21 active vents spread over 150 km2 (57.9 mi2). The hydrothermal fluids reach temperatures of 330°C (626°F), very close to the boiling point corresponding to the force of pressure at 1,100 m (3,609 ft). The field's fauna is bio-geographically distinct from that of other hydrothermal fields, predominately rich in mussels and associated species.
The "Menez Gwen" hydrothermal field is characterized by a 700 m (2,297 ft) volcano with a diameter of 17 km (10.6 mi). The hydrothermal fluids, with temperatures close to 280°C (536°F), emerge from various active vents at a depth of 850 m (2,789 ft). Large quantities of mussels cover the vents, and are accompanied by shrimps, crabs, and many other species.
- SRAM, ed. (2004). Áreas Ambientais dos Açores [Environmental Areas of the Azores]. Horta, Azores: SRAM Secretaria Regional do Ambiente e Mar.
- (Portuguese) Gê-Questa: Associação de Defesa do Ambiente (Gê-Questa: Association of Protection of the Environment)
- (Portuguese) Secrataria Regional do Ambiente e do Mar dos Açores (Regional Secretariat for the Environment and Ocean of the Azores)