Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents
This group of hydrothermal vents lies 2,250 metres (7,380 ft) below sea level in an area where the Pacific Ocean seabed is being pulled apart called the Endeavor Segment, which forms part of a larger spreading center called the Juan de Fuca Ridge.
Hydrothermal vents form in volcanically active areas, such as mid-ocean ridges where two plates are diverging, separating from each other, resulting in the formation of new crust. At such sites, water penetrates through the hot crust, causing the pressure and temperature to change, resulting in precipitation of minerals, eventually creating hydrothermal chimneys. After the hydrothermal fluids temperature decreases and mixes with the seawater, the environment will reach ideal thermal and chemical conditions that supports a unique biological community.
Hydrothermal vents typically form on the tectonic plate boundaries and in association with hotspots. Seawater flows through the cracks of the volcanic bed which heats the water and cools the Earth. This allows the hydrothermal fluids to flow up and out of the crust and into the ocean. This heated water supplies energy and nutrients for chemoautotrophic organisms to thrive in this environment. 800 individual chimneys have been recorded over a 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) section of the ridge.
Heat in the Endeavor Hydrothermal Vents are supplied by the cooling of the Earth's crust in areas of high seismic activity. The water is supplied by the ocean and seeps into the Earth's crust and rises back up out of the surface after it is heated. The hydrothermal fluids come from below the surface of the Earth and rise up above the surface.
Fluid fluxes and chemistry
Energy flux caused by high temperature gradients in the Endeavor Hydrothermal Vents contributes to the production of chemical reactions that are necessary for life to exist, sparking the synthesis of organic compounds. These changes in temperature are caused by the cooling of the magma once it penetrates the surface of the Earth, making contact with the seawater. These hydrothermal fluids can reach temperatures for up to 402 °C.
Hydrothermal vents are located at mid-ocean ridges, where an abundance of life is present, providing high biodiversity of productivity. They provide habitats for many unique species of animals. The Juan De Fuca Ridge is home to 60 unique species in the world. Specifically in the Endeavour Segment, there are 12 species that are unique to this area which do not exist anywhere else in the world including the sea spider (Sericosura Venticola). A sulfide-hosted microbe from this site can live in environments up to 121 °C, which is the record for the upper limit for life.
Marine protected area designation
Due to the rich biodiversity in the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents, the Canada's Oceans Act declared this site as the first marine protected area in 2003. The marine protected area management ensures that human activities help instead of hinder the environment including conserving and protecting the biodiversity of the space, while increasing research and public awareness of the environment as well. All regulations can be found in the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents Marine Protected Area Regulations.
Since 1987, Canada has been utilizing their cabled observatory called North Pacific Time-Series Underwater Experiment (NEPTUNE). NEPTUNE was founded by the Science Foundation's Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). Some examples that NEPTUNE can measure are temperature, salinity, and methane content of the seafloor. These are measured with a collection of instruments that are powered with cables that are long enough to connect to land power, allowing real-time monitoring.
The Endeavor Hydrothermal vents are home to several important scientific discoveries which include:
- 1982: discovery of the first vents in Juan de Fuca Ridge
- 1984: exploration of the first extensive seafloor ore deposits
- 1989: discovery of glowing vents, which are vents that emit thermal radiation due to high temperature fluids above 350 °C coming out of the vent.
- 1990: discovery of highest neutral water temperatures known to Earth
- 1991: first extensive usage of undersea robotic vehicles
- Discovery of the organism that holds the record for the upper temperature limit to life (121 °C)
- First evidence that hydrothermal plumes were zones of greatly enhanced zooplankton aggregation
- First measurements of biomass fluxes relating to hydrothermal plumes
To this day, the Endeavor Hydrothermal Vents still continues to be a site where scientists such as biologists, geologists, physicists, microbiologists, and oceanographers gravitate toward to find new discoveries.
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