Black smokers are one type of hydrothermal vent in the ocean. They are chimney like structures on the floor of the ocean that shoot out clouds of scorching water (up to 700° Fahrenheit).
This phenomenon is cause by cracks in the Earth’s crust, which heat up ocean water below the ground. The hot water is then expelled through openings such as black smokers into the surrounding ocean. As the water cools, mineral within it solidify. Over time, these minerals build up to form the chimney-like structures of the black smoker (sometimes reaching over 100 feet in height). The black color of the chimney comes from the nature of the minerals, which are largely composed of iron sulfides.
Black smokers can host amazing biotic communities including organisms such as archaea, barnacles, and tubeworms. Scientists believe that hydrothermal vents may allow for similar ecosystems on Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN BLACK SMOKER
*Make sure to ask a parent’s permission and use a space you can get messy!
1 tbsp. dish soap
1 tbsp. baking powder
Cover the bottle in clay. If you want your black smoker to look realistic, use black clay to simulate the iron sulfide deposits of the black smoker chimney!
Mix the dish soap and vinegar.
Pour the mix into your bottle.
Package the baking soda in toilet paper and wrap it together with rubber bands.
Put in the backing soda and wait!
This tutorial was modified from wikihow. For this and other methods of building black smokers visit:
Wouldn’t it be nice if our meals, snacks, and beverages just fell from the sky right into our hands as if it were rain or snow? What if those Skittle’s commercials where little, fruity candies rained down from vibrant rainbows above your head were actually a reality? Come on, admit it; at one point in your life, you wished that skittles would trickle on down on top of your head and waterfall right into your mouth and hands. Instead of rain, what if it was drops of Coca-Cola or orange juice? What a life it would be….I guess?
Well in our reality, rain is still cumulated water particles from the sky that get pulled down by gravity, rainbows are a distant visual spectacle that always disappear just when you are about to get close them, and our food still hides out in the pantry and refrigerator, lifeless and alluringly calling our names to indulge. So then what’s the point of all this talk about food-borne weather phenomena? Well, lets take a dive down to the very depths of the ocean to find out.
While food falling from the sky may not be our reality, it is for the Deep Sea believe it or not! Communities of mysterious deep dwelling organisms actually obtain a majority of their diet from what falls from “the sky” (or the open water above, rather). This descending, nutritious organic matter is more formally named, Marine Snow.
More clearly, marine snow is showering organic material that falls from the surface above down towards the bottom of the ocean. It originates from dead animals, plants, plant-like organisms, such as algae, and even fecal matter. Some of it even comes from inorganic matter, such as sand, silt, and other related materials. Mass contributors of the falling snow typically come from plankton feasted on by bigger consumers. Fish, invertebrates, marine mammals, and even zooplankton are examples of these predatory individuals. As the dead, decaying matter descends from the upper layers of the ocean, they fuse together and accumulate into larger “snow-like” particles. As these particles slowly make there way down, deep sea organisms that aren’t so lucky to find food on a frequent basis filter out the snow to obtain vital nutrients, like carbon and nitrogen, needed for optimal survival. What ever is left continues to fall slowly until it is either consumed by other deep dwelling creatures or it makes impact with the ocean floor. The time is takes for marine snow to typically reach the bottom is around two weeks. Overtime, marine snow that doesn’t get eaten will slowly start to accumulate on the sea floor forming “oozy” mounds of decomposed matter. These mounds will, in turn, become food for detritus buried within the floor or get sifted up by deep-sea conveyor currents that eventually work there way to the surface.
Marine snow additionally poses as a major carbon sink on our oceans. As mentioned above, these particles are rich in carbon and other organic nutrients. The left over material that contributes to the bottom mound of organic ooze is highly composed of that carbon, which will sit and stay rested until it gets sifted up within the deep-sea currents and transported back to the surface where it can return to the ocean’s food web and to our atmosphere.
Before you allow yourself to get bitter over the fact that it snows practically everyday within the ocean than it does on land, just know that 1). it ain’t the white, fresh, powdery goodness that falls from our sky during the winter months, and 2). it’s a natural life process that feeds the hunger that resides in the deepest part of our oceans and regulated the excessive amounts of carbon that hang out in our atmosphere and oceans. Now how cool is that?
The Deepest part of the ocean is about 36,200 feet or over 11,000 meters, which is deeper than Mt. Everest is tall by about 7,000 feet! Animals that live this deep have a remarkable amount of challenges that they have to adapt to in order to live, such as absence of light, freezing temperatures, and immense increases of pressure. Today we are going to talk about why pressure is increased as you go deeper as well as the effects that it has on many animals that live down there.
Have you ever been on a snorkel or a SCUBA dive and felt pressure on your ears as you go deeper down? Well, if you have, that is actually the air cavities inside your ears shrinking as you go deeper. As a rule of thumb the deeper you go in the ocean the more pressure is being forced onto your body. We normally measure pressure in atmospheres, which is the amount of pressure exerted by the Earth’s atmosphere. At the surface of the ocean we only have 1 atmosphere of pressure pushing down on our bodies. Each atmosphere is equivalent to 14.5 pounds per square inch, meaning you have 14.5 pounds of force pushing down on you right now. However, as you descend in your SCUBA unit or pressurized submarine, the pressure increases by 1 atmosphere every 10 meters (33 feet). So, at the deepest depths of the ocean, you have the weight of an elephant on every inch of your body, OUCH!
So how can animals that live and thrive in the deep depths of the ocean survive these immense pressures and we cannot? Inside of our bodies we have many air cavities that would pop and rigid bones that would snap when exposed to the pressure. So for invertebrates and fish that live in the Marianas Trench the simple solution is to remove the air cavities and have very flexible bones…if any at all! Fish do this by evolving past swim bladders, an organ that normally controls buoyancy. Many invertebrates do this by having hydrostatic skeletons; a fluid filled cavity surrounded by muscle, or no air cavities as well. Marine mammals like deep diving whales have incredibly flexible rib cages that can compress with the pressure and collapsible lungs that can withstand rupturing! This is exactly how Sperm Whales are able to dive down to 7,000 feet deep to battle and eat Giant Squid.
Our oceans are vast and getting across them is daunting enough but exploring underneath them is even more challenging. Although our oceans cover 71% of our planet, we have only explored about 5% of them. The deep sea accounts for 95% of our oceans, yet the majority of sea life cannot live there because it has four characteristics that make life in the deep sea extremely formidable.
The first challenge of deep sea life is dealing with the pressure. The pressure of the deep sea may range between 3000 to 9000 pounds per square inch. That’s enough to crush almost all living things to only a fraction of their normal size should they ever happen to venture into the deep sea. To deal with this extreme pressure, the animals that inhabit the deep sea have different body structures than their cousins near the surface. Many of the fish are small with soft bodies and muscles. Many of the creatures of the deep sea like squid don’t have any bones at all.
The next challenge for creatures of the deep sea is the temperature. Most of the deep sea has a temperature between 35 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit, which is far too cold for most animals. Not all deep sea animals live in the cold water. Some animals in the deepest parts of our ocean live inhabit some of the hottest environments on the planet. These are the creatures of hydrothermal vents, areas where super heated water and gas comes the area between two tectonic plates. The temperatures around these unique ecosystems can sometimes be over 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Animals that live near these vents cant venture too far away or they will risk freezing to death.
If you were to drop past 3000 feet down in the ocean you would find it very hard to see. At that depth all of the light from the sun has been absorbed and everything from this point below lives in almost complete darkness. The darkness and loneliness are last two characteristics and potentially the greatest challenges of living in the deep sea. The darkness makes finding any other creature whether it is food or friend nearly impossible. Deep sea creatures have adapted to deal with the darkness though. Many animals have the ability to produce their own light in the form of bioluminescence. This ability to create their own light attracts unassuming prey items that may be looking for a meal as well. The anglerfish is one of the best animals at this with here rod like light that bring the food right in front of her mouth. When animals in the deep sea are lucky enough to find a meal they need to make sure that they can eat it so many of the animals of the deep sea have large mouths and stomachs that can expand to hold prey nearly as large as themselves. As hard as it is to find a meal, finding another animal of the same Species can sometimes be even more challenging. Some deep sea creatures go their entire lives without ever finding a mate.
Ewww what is that!! Its so slimy and gross! Well kids, what your looking at isn’t a sea serpent or a snake, its a hagfish. Hagfish may not win any beauty pageants in the near future but they sure know how to hang around, the oldest surviving vertebrate living over 300 million years ago! It’s quite amazing that such a simple looking animal has been around for such a long period of time. Hagfish fall under the class known as the jawless fish, or Agnatha, meaning they lack true jaws like you and I. They are the only known living animals to have a skull but no vertebral column and are related to lampreys.
These crazy looking animals aren’t going to be hanging around in the shallow waters were we could find them on snorkel. They are deep sea animals living hundreds of feet down, feeding primarily on dead animals that sink down to the bottom. Hope you aren’t in the middle of eating a big meal, but these fish are known to enter the inside of the dead animal and devour it from the inside out. They do this by absorbing organic matter across their skin and gills, which allows them to maximize their sporadic feeding methods. Quite the interesting image! Besides how they eat and survive probably the coolest thing about these little guys is their ability to produce copious amounts of slime when distressed.
The hagfish is sometimes referred to as the slime eel and for a good reason. They have around 100 glands along their body, which can produce the thick milky and fibrous slime. The slime of these fish contains thousands of very thin and tiny (100x smaller than a human hair) protein threads. The threads are extremely strong and when they are stretched out and dried they resemble spider silk. The cool applications of this could potentially be creating material that rivals nylon or plastic and used in things from bulletproof vests to artificial tissues, crazy right! If these animals get captured, the hagfish will actually tie itself into a knot and work its way from the head to the tail slowly scrapping off all the slime and freeing itself from the attacker. It’s also believed that the slime of the hagfish has another defense tool, clogging the attackers gills. The slime is so think that when a fish attacks its gills will become clogged and the hagfish will have time to escape. This can be viewed as one of the coolest evolutionary strategies against predator fish around. I don’t know about you but hagfish are cool in my book!
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