Discovery of Large Hydrothermal Vent Field in Pacific

Scientists on a Schmidt Ocean Institute expedition have discovered a new hydrothermal vent field larger than a professional soccer field. The vent field found in the Pacific Ocean off the Western Galápagos Islands consists of five geyser-like chimneys and three hot springs, like those you might see in Yellowstone. The hottest water temperature recorded was 288° C (550° F).

The American and Ecuadorian research team on RV Falkor (too), led by Dr. Roxanne Beinart of the University of Rhode Island and Dr. Jill McDermott from Lehigh University, detected chemical signatures of the 9,178 sq. m vent field while surveying the region with Schmidt Ocean Institute’s underwater robot, ROV SuBastian. They found the vents and explored the area for over 43 hr., the longest dive for the robot in its seven years of operation. The goal of the expedition was to characterize hydrothermal vents on the western side of the Galápagos spreading center and search for new vent fields.

The scientists found the vent field when a Galatheid crab, also known as a squat lobster, came into view. The number of crabs grew until the scientists finally arrived on the vent field and were excited to find giant tube worms nestled around the hot water. The Ecuadorian observers on board the vessel, Ricardo Visaira Coronel of the Galápagos National Park and Dennisse Maldonado of INOCAR, named the vent field “Sendero del Cangrejo,” which translates to “Trail of the Crabs.”

The 30-day expedition began on August 13, 2023 on Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor (too) in collaboration with the Galápagos National Park Directorate (GNPD), Charles Darwin Foundation, and the Ecuadorian Navy’s Oceanographic and Antarctic Institute (INOCAR). Other participating institutions included University of Rhode Island, Lehigh University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, U.S. Geological Survey, Harvard University and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The samples from the expedition will aid scientists in creating a more complete picture on how the vents west of the Galápagos may or may not be connected to the vents east of the islands. Some of the collected specimens may be new species due to the novelty of the site. Many hydrothermal vent fields have unique characteristics, and by comparing the similarities and differences between vent fields, scientists will gain an understanding of how they are connected.

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