Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Short Sharp Science

Antarctic hydrothermal vents like no other on Earth

Michael Marshall, environment reporter
13706_Antarctic_vents_crabs_Kiwa.jpg(Image: Oxford University)

Hydrothermal vents deep in Antarctic waters are unlike vents elsewhere. Many typical vent animals like tube worms are missing, perhaps because they can't reach the vents through the cold polar waters. Instead the vents are home to huge colonies of yeti crabs like the one above.
Researchers led by Alex Rogers of the University of Oxford sent a remotely operated vehicle to explore the East Scotia Ridge, deep beneath the Southern Ocean. There hydrothermal vents pump hot, mineral-rich water up from beneath the seabed.
Such vents are often home to communities of bizarre animals, but the ecosystem on the East Scotia Ridge was particularly weird. "Many animals such as tube worms, vent mussels, vent crabs, and vent shrimps, found in hydrothermal vents in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, simply weren't there," Rogers says.
As well as the yeti crabs, the vents were rich in stalked barnacles, limpets, sea anemones and a predatory sea star with seven legs. There was also an as-yet-unidentified pale octopus.

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