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Black smokers and lost city vents

last modified Sep 06, 2017 02:25 PM
A new paper from Silvana Cardoso
Black smokers and lost city vents

Carbonate spires in the Lost City vent field. Credit: IFE, URI-IAO, UW, Lost City Science Party; NOAA/OAR/OER; The Lost City 2005 Expedition

In the depths of the oceans, hydrothermal vents produce spectacular structures. The deposits consist of spires that can reach 10m in width at their tops, and delicate flanges adorn their sides.

Black smokers and Lost City-type springs are varieties of these hydrothermal vents. Black smokers emit hot, acidic water and Lost City-type springs emit cool, alkaline water.

In a recent paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Drs Silvana Cardoso and Julyan Cartwright discuss the differing growth mechanisms of black-smoker and Lost City-type hydrothermal vents.

While both produce precipitation structures as the issuing fluid encounters oceanic water, Lost City type hydrothermal vents in particular have been implicated in the origin of life on the Earth. 

The paper presents a parallel-velocity flow model for the radius and flow rate of a cylindrical jet of fluid that forms the template for the growth of a tube precipitated about itself and compares the solution with previous laboratory experimental results from growth of silicate chemical gardens. It shows that when the growth of the solid structure is determined by thermal diffusion, fluid flow is slow at the solid–liquid contact. However, in the case of chemical diffusive transport, the fluid jet effectively drags the liquid in the pores of the solid precipitate. These findings suggest a continuum in the diffusive growth rate of hydrothermal vent structures, where Lost City-type hydrothermal vents favour contact between the vent fluid and the external seawater. The paper explores the implications for the road to life.

 

Hydrothermal vent study area with black smoker and bright red-tipped tube worms. Credit: IFE, URI-IAO, UW, Lost City Science Party; NOAA/OAR/OER; The Lost City 2005 Expedition

Cardoso SSS, Cartwright JHE. 2017 On the differing growth mechanisms of black-smoker and Lost City-type hydrothermal vents. Proc. R. Soc. A 20170387.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspa.2017.0387

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