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Visit the Pacific’s Deepest Hydrothermal Vents With Underwater Robots

Researchers spotted the vents nearly 12,500 feet beneath the surface during an expedition mapping the floor of the Pescadero Basin

smithsonian.com

About 100 miles east of La Paz, Mexico the ocean plunges deep. More than 12,500 feet below the surface in the Gulf of California, researchers just discovered the deepest hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean, pumping out super-hot liquids rich in minerals. They did it with the aid of robotic underwater vehicles tricked out with cameras, so now its possible to glimpse those wondrous vents while high and dry at home.

For Engadget, Jon Fingas reports:

The machines achieved their feat in just two days, versus the years that it'd take for conventional undersea mapping -- and they achieved the kind of detail that would likely be difficult or impossible using those earlier techniques.

The researchers and their diving bots come from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. One vehicle mapped the bottom of the Pescadero Basin in the Gulf using sound beams and the other collected video and samples from near the vents.

“Before the [robotic] survey of Pescadero Basin, all we knew was that this area was really deep and filled with sediment," says David Clauge, the expedition’s leader, in a press release. "I was hoping to find a few outcrops of lava on the seafloor. But we got lucky. The vent field was right on the edge of our survey area, along a fault at the western edge of the basin.”

The vents are rather unique. Typically hydrothermal vents sport chimneys built of sulfides, but these are light-colored carbonate minerals. They are "smaller and more delicate than the black smokers," found in other areas and so-named for the dark smoke-like plumes they emit. The Gulf’s newly found vents also support colonies of tube worms. Other, cooler hydrothermal seeps the expedition found also host broad white mats of bacteria. 

The profoundly strange deep sea community can be seen in all its alien-looking glory in the video from MBARI. 

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