Fountains of the Deep

From Issue: Discovery 5/1/2000

What looked like black smoke billowed from a crack in the ocean floor. Alvin, a tiny research submarine, and its captain, Jack Corliss, steered in for a closer look. As the submarine drew closer, Corliss could see that he had found just what he was looking for—a hydrothermal vent.

Hydrothermal vents are cracks in the ocean floor that spew forth hot water, poison gases, and metal oxides. The poison gases and metal oxides make the water look like black smoke billowing from the ocean floor. For this reason, scientists often call these vents “black smokers.”

The conditions around “black smokers” are terribly dangerous and not suited for most living creatures. The water that pours from these vents gets as hot as 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Most kitchen ovens don’t get that hot. Not only is the water scorching hot, but it contains toxic oxides and gases that can kill almost any living creature.

Since many of these vents are at tremendous depths in the ocean, the water pressure alone makes it virtually impossible to maintain life in such surroundings. To top it all off, many of them are so far under the ocean that the Sun’s rays never reach them, making the vent environment extremely dark.

The terrible conditions surrounding hydrothermal vents make them the last place we would expect to find life. But that is exactly what we have found! Over 300 species of living creatures never before seen by humans thrive in these harsh conditions. Two examples of these wacky creatures are the eight-foot-long tubeworms with no stomachs and blazing red plumes, and white shrimp with eyes on their backs instead of their heads. At the bottom of the food chain around these vents are tiny bacteria that can use chemicals to make food (chemosynthesis), instead of using light from the Sun (photosynthesis).

Some scientists claim that life on Earth may have originated around these vents because of the special food-making process of the bacteria found there. It has been proven, however, that life could not start in a place with such harsh conditions.

Although hydrothermal vents are interesting and mysterious, we know that they will never be able to tell us where life began. Only in one place—the Bible—can we find the answer to that question: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:36).


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