Scientists have discovered an entirely new ecosystem filled with never-before-seen life forms hidden underneath the seafloor.
“On land we have long known of animals living in cavities underground, and in the ocean of animals living in sand and mud, but for the first time, scientists have looked for animals beneath hydrothermal vents,” Jyotika Virmani, executive director of the Schmidt Ocean Institute, said in a statement. “This truly remarkable discovery of a new ecosystem, hidden beneath another ecosystem, provides fresh evidence that life exists in incredible places.”
The newly discovered ecosystem was found in volcanic cavities beneath hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise off Central America.
Hydrothermal vents are similar to underwater hot springs that appear in cracks in the earth’s crust.
According to the research team’s statement, scientists have spent the past 46 years studying hydrothermal vents and microbial life in the subsurface, but have never looked for animals under these volcanic hot springs.
Now, however, with the aid of a underwater robot which was able to overturn chunks of volcanic crust, they were able to see cave systems filled with worms, snails, and chemosynthetic bacteria living in 75 degrees Fahrenheit water.
The 30-day expedition aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor (too) was led by Dr. Monika Bright, University of Vienna, along with an international science team from the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Costa Rica, and Slovenia.
“Our understanding of animal life at deep-sea hydrothermal vents has greatly expanded with this discovery, ” said Bright. “Two dynamic vent habitats exist. Vent animals above and below the surface thrive together in unison, depending on vent fluid from below and oxygen in the seawater from above.”
Earlier this year, scientists discovered more than 5,000 never-before-seen animal species deep in the Pacific Ocean during scientific expeditions in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone.
The Clarion-Clipperton Zone is a fracture zone with a depth of 2.5 to 3.7 miles and an area of about twice the size of India. It runs from Mexico to Hawaii and covers approximately 2.3 million square miles.