Near the summit of an underwater mountain west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a jagged landscape of towers rises from the darkness.
Its creamy carbon walls and pillars appear a ghostly blue in the light of a remotely operated vehicle sent out to explore.
They range in height from Small frog-sized mounds into a large monolith It is 60 meters (nearly 200 feet) high. This is the lost city.
Discovered by scientists in 2000, more than 700 meters (2,300 ft) below the surface, The Lost City hydrothermal field is the longest known vent environment in the ocean. Nothing else like it has been found.
For at least 120,000 years and possibly longer, the upwelling mantle in this part of the world has been interacting with seawater to spew hydrogen, methane, and other dissolved gases into the ocean.
In the cracks and crevices of field vents, hydrocarbons feed new microbial communities even without the presence of oxygen.
Chimneys release gases up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) It is home to an abundance of snails and crustaceans. Large animals such as crabs, shrimp, sea urchins, and eels are rare, but they still exist.
Despite the harsh nature of the environment, it appears to be teeming with life, and researchers believe it deserves our attention and protection.
While other hydrothermal fields like this may exist elsewhere in the world’s oceans, this is the only remotely operated rover I’ve been able to find so far.
The hydrocarbons produced by the Lost City vents were not formed from atmospheric carbon dioxide or sunlight, but through chemical reactions on the deep sea floor.
Since hydrocarbons are the building blocks of life, this leaves open the possibility of life originating in a habitat like this. And not only on our planet.
“This is an example of the type of ecosystem that could be active on Enceladus or Europa at this moment,” microbiologist William Brazelton Tell Smithsonian In 2018, with reference to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.
And maybe Mars In the past.”
In contrast to the so-called underwater volcanic vents Black smokerswhich has also been named as a possible first habitat, the Lost City ecosystem does not depend on magma heat.
Black smokers mostly produce minerals rich in iron and sulfur, while lost city smokers produce minerals rich in iron and sulfur up to 100 times More hydrogen and methane.
The calcite vents in the Lost City are also much larger than the black smokers, indicating that they have been active for a longer period.
The tallest monolith is called Poseidon, after the Greek god of the sea, and stretches over 60 meters in height.
Meanwhile, to the northeast of the tower is a downhill side with short bursts of activity. Researchers at the University of Washington Describe The vents here as “weep” with fluids to produce “clusters of minute growths of polychaetes extending outward like the fingers of two turned hands”.
Unfortunately, scientists are not the only ones affected by this unusual terrain.
In 2018 it was announced that Poland has won the rights To mine the deep sea around the lost city. Although there are no precious resources being dredged in the actual thermal field itself, the destruction of the areas around the city could have unintended consequences.
This is the Lost City, a towering ecosystem in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is completely unique, as life is not found anywhere else on Earth. And if someone wants to destroy it? There is nothing you can do about it. No laws. No consequences. Welcome to the high seas… pic.twitter.com/mdG5wOsr5h
– Exploring the Open Ocean (RebeccaRHelm) August 22, 2022
Scientists have warned that any plumes or discharges caused by mining could easily wash away the magnificent habitat.
So some experts calls for The Lost City will be listed as a World Heritage Site, to protect the natural wonders before it is too late.
For tens of thousands of years, the Lost City has stood as a testament to the everlasting life force.
It would be like us just to destroy it.
A previous version of this article was published in August 2022.
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