Black Smokers: Ore Factories of the Deep


At the bottom of the sea there exist
veins of zinc, iron, silver and gold whose mining would quite
certainly be feasible, Captain Nemo says in Jules Vernes’
novel “20.000 leagues under the Sea.” About 140 years after the French writer took his readers on an
adventurousdiving trip his vision is about to become reality. Black smokers on the sea floor bring up valuable raw materials
from inside the earth. Their meter-high vents seem
to give off clouds of smoke like under water industrial chimneys. Marine geologists from GEOMAR, Helmholtz-Centre for
Ocean Research Kiel, examined those vents and took samples back
to their laboratories. They aim to find out which chemical
elements make up the rocks. Thus, they can draw conclusions
on the formation and evolution of the black smokers. These vents are not only interesting
for research purposes but also for the industry. This is due to the chemical reactions taking place when seawater is heated up by magma chambers. Hydrothermal vents occur on the boundary of the tectonic plates
all over the world. Here, seawater flows into the
ocean floor through cracks. At a depth of two to three kilometres, this water is heated up and then rises to the surface
under great pressure. On the way up, the pH and the oxygen
content of the water decrease. The resulting aggressive and up
to 400 degree celsius hot fluid leaches out various elements
from the surrounding rock. When coming in contact
with the cold seawater, minute particles are formed, causing the escaping water
to look like smoke. In the vicinity, substances are
deposited and vents are formed. A GEOMAR expedition
to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The scientists would like to examine
more of the especially active vents. The autonomous underwater vehicle
ABYSS assists the scientists in their search for new
hydrothermal vents. It scans the sea floor to a
depth of up to 6000 meters Based on the data generated with
ABYSS’s sonar and echo sounder, highly precise maps are created. Based on the maps, the scientists
decide where the remotely operated vehicle ROV KIEL
6000 should be launched. Finally the moment has arrived: ROV KIEL 6000 descends to a hydrothermal field on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Its journey into the depths takes hours. The cameras of the robot provide
video pictures in real time. The black smoker “Sisters Peak” is located in the hydrothermal
field “Comfortless Cove” in almost three kilometres water depth. Hot fluid at more than
400 degrees celcuis spouts from the twelve
metre high double-spires. They are the hottest places
known by scientists. Late at night, ROV KIEL 6000
comes back from its dive. Finally, the scientists can
touch with their hands what they have only seen
on the monitors before. But more precise information about
the samples can only be obtained by analysing thin sections of the
samples in the laboratory. Which elements a sample contains is determined with the help of an
electron probe micro analyzer. The results are also
interesting economically as precious metals are in high demand as are trace elements for use
in such products as LED lights, mobile phone displays or
fibre active cable. Copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold
are the elements of interest of interest for the mining industry. In addition to that, a number
of trace elements such as indium, gallium and germanium are very popular in the
technical industry. The run on the treasures of
the sea has already started – although the equipment needed for
mining is not yet sufficiently developed to allow exploitation to begin. Due to their high exit temperatures, mining of the hot vents
will be very challenging. They can reach up to
400 degrees celsius. It is easy to imagine the
effect the hot and chemically aggressive fluids
could have on the drill pipes. To limit the effects
on their equipment, the mining industry will concentrate
on inactive vent areas. The advantage of this is that the
rich fauna around the hot springs is hardly affected by
the mining activities. The hot springs are mainly
inhabited by endemic species, species that only exist at hot springs,
which need special protection. Tube worms, shrimps, crabs,
mussels and snails live around the black smokers. The number of organisms living in those
oases of the deep-sea is 200 to 300 times higher than in
the more distant surroundings. The organisms live in complete darkness, under the high pressure of the deep-sea and close to places were hot and toxic
substances are discharged. How is life even possible in
such an hostile environment? Just like plants do
photosynthesis using sunlight, here specialised bacteria
do chemosynthesis: They convert sulphur and
hydrogen into energy. Shrimps and other organisms
feed on those bacteria. This leads to the development
of specialised food chains around the hydrothermal vents. Some scientists even suggest that
this process answers the question of how life emerged on earth. The first creatures must have
lived on chemical components such as methane, hydrogen sulphide
or normal hydrogen. Oxygen became available
later in the history of earth. Whether the ecosystems we observe
at hydrothermal vents today are directly descended from such primordial systems has
yet to be proved. However, there is some evidence
that this is not the case but that they derived from
shallow water organisms. Despite this it is a fact that the
hydrothermal vents at the ocean floor developed early during
the history of the earth and therefore the origin of
life could have been here. Biologists, geologists and
chemists work together closely when it comes to investigating the
black smokers. Thanks to the collaboration they are starting
to understand the complex system at the bottom of the Sea. For sure there’s still a lot to discover
in the depths of the oceans and maybe the discoveries yet to be made can one day help to supply the
world’s population with raw materials.

22 Replies to “Black Smokers: Ore Factories of the Deep”

  1. Incredible video. I am fully agree with him that first creatures must have lived on chemical components.

  2. This reminds me of Jeremiah 5:20-22

    20 “Announce this to the descendants of Jacob
        and proclaim it in Judah:
    21 Hear this, you foolish and senseless people,
        who have eyes but do not see,
        who have ears but do not hear:
    22 Should you not fear me?” declares the Lord.
        “Should you not tremble in my presence?
    I made the sand a boundary for the sea,
        an everlasting barrier it cannot cross.
    The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail;
        they may roar, but they cannot cross it.

    En español le entiendo mas.

  3. Are you serious? Were already greedy enough. We don't need to destroy more ecosystems just for our shitty want for riches.

  4. This is factory for so many geology kemical element on this planet.On deep area underground 60 km is natural proces of growen uranium.torium.stroncium.

  5. So interesting how deep smokers produse and change metal oxide on temperature level and smoke iron.zink in micro structural granulate hidrothermal clastre similar vulcano erupcion clastre with ash.Under water is this snowing from metal.

  6. I would just like to say to all the comments stating that this is abhorrent and greedy and we shouldn't destroy these beautiful environments: while I agree that humans often don't give a care about other lifeforms and that we shouldn't immediately go down and mine these environments; as a Marine Science student it is absolutely necessary for there to be a plausible economic outcome if we want to be able to explore these environments. Science, and scientific equipment, is neither free nor cheap, and can therefore only take place if appropriate funding is in place. So much so is this the case that the only research vessel which has ever been used to allow humans to see these environments in person – a submersible called Alvin – was first produced in 1964 and *no duplicate has been made since because it is so costly*.

    This funding ordinarily comes from either businesses or governmental bodies, neither of which are going to fund anything if there is no profit of any kind. Therefore, if we want to continue research on these unique habitats, we must be willing to at least examine the possibility of them being use as a resource. On the topic of mining, many don't realize just how barren the sea floor is. With the correct equipment, mining of extinct (and therefore environmentally barren) hydrothermal vents would be possible with minimal disturbance of the surrounding seafloor. it is not a perfect scenario and never will be, but it isn't as destructive as many believe. Small samples of the organisms that live in these environments (which realistically do not affect the ecosystem by being taken) could also be used to produce new medicines and provide greener methods of many industrial processes (using biotechnological methods instead of harsh chemicals).

    Long story short, science is unfortunately, like everything else in the human world, driven by money, and exploitation of these environments need not have the devastating environmental effects that most people who have only read news articles online believe.

  7. Hidrothermal metal oxide micro snowing is food for cemosintesic deep ocean organism whit this metal oxide growing skeleton many of them like rifthia and other.

  8. There are far more deadlier things outside of human control than has happened here on earth and killed far more life than we have asteroid super volcanoes ect….If we don't learn to leave this rock we're doomed regardless of what we do

  9. The mining industry must not get their hands on these fragile ecosystems. Humans have already disturbed and ruined so many natural habitats. The hydrothermal vents need to be protected!

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