Naturally Occurring Black Smokers On The Ocean Floor

By: Scott Fromherz

A naturally-occurring hot springs settles on the bottom of the ocean floor, in a similar way as the Old Faithful spouts off every so often at Yosemite National Park in the U.S. In the same way, these black smokers on the ocean floor release gases that bubble up inside the ocean, far away from anyone’s view.

These structures are chimney-like and are made up of sulfur-bearing minerals or sulfides formed by the Earth’s crust. These sulfide minerals crystallize onto volcanic rocks where the hot mineral-rich water flows from the ground. Scuba divers often see these black smokers and become frightened upon first sight, yet if they are experienced and knowledgeable divers they know what to expect. These natural phenomenons are really quite beautiful to behold.

Black Smokers: A Fascinating Natural Occurence

When the water spouts out of this chimney-like shape it appears black in color because of it mixing with the cold ocean water. This is why it was given the name black smoker. The place where black smokers tend to occur is on top of sulfide mounds, which are piles of minerals which build up over time.

The size of these mounds can be as large as a tennis court or as small as a pool table. Sometimes, they are given names such as Garden of Eden, Snake Pit or Beehives. These black smokers occur along the midocean ridges and many different vents have been discovered around the Galapagos Islands in recent years. These deep-sea hydrothermal vents are located on ridges most often, but not exclusively.

There is ongoing research being conducted around ocean basins which can cause the black smokers to form. Expeditions go to collect samples and to run tests to find out exactly how and where these vents occur. Heat and chemical mass come from deep within the Earth and are transferred by these deep sea vents. Understanding this process is critical in trying to help our planet in many ways.

Vast ecosystems are supported upon these black smokers and are fascinating to explore and understand as well. The energy source is not from sunlight, as the smokers are on the bottom of the ocean floor and receive no light, thus it is important to study how life forms in this environment. Much can be gleaned from the studying life in the ocean depths for enhancing our own population and ecosystem on the Earth’s land.

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