In 1977, Robert Ballard and J.F. Grassle of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Instution, were diving in Alvin near the Galapagos Islands when they discovered rocky chimneys up to 20 meters high. These chimneys were emitting dark, mineral-laden water that reached temperatures of 350 degrees Celsius. The occupants of Alvin had discovered the first documented hydrothermal vent.
These vents are formally defined as "springs of hot, mineral- and gas-rich seawater found on some oceanic ridges in zones of active seafloor spreading" (Garrison, 2004). Hydrothermal vents are found in ocean basins throughout the world. They are often compared to geysers of the deep ocean. And similar to above-ground geysers, hydrothermal vents play an important role in the formation and maintenance of this planet and the life that it supports. Therefore, hydrothermal vents play an integral role in our understanding of the planet and its origins and must be studied further. This area of research is important on a national and international level and can even have an impact on the state or local level as well.
Hydrothermal vents have been found everywhere from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge east of Florida, in the Sea of Cortez near Baja California, to even the Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. Scientists believe that vents are most common on oceanic ridges and are a result of rapid seafloor spreading. Oceanic ridges are found in locations in the ocean where divergent plate boundaries are prevalent. Due to the diverging plates, a fissure is created between these plates. This fissure provides a gap that dips down into the earth's asthenosphere. This gap is then filled with molten rock called magma that rises through crustal fractures. This magma is solidified as it enters the crustal fractures or erupts from volcanoes. This creates new ocean crust and is the basis for seafloor spreading. These crustal fractures also provide an opportunity for sea water to seep...
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