About 850 miles west of Portugal lies the Azores, a group of nine volcanic islands that are now home to one of the Atlantic Ocean’s most unique recent discoveries. Researchers have just found a series of hydrothermal vents off their coasts that are typically home to new species. And the interesting catch to their find is that they’re significantly shallower than normal and far less remote.
“It’s like finding an alien environment on Earth,” Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence told National Geographic. “These are rare examples of ecosystems that live off energy from the center of the Earth instead of sunlight.”
The newly-found vents are just 60 miles offshore in the Azores and just 1,870-feet deep, whereas the first vents ever discovered in the Galapagos were more than 6,000-feet deeper and over three times further away from land. The hydrothermal vents are created where continental plates meet. Seawater seeps into the cracks of these borders, mixes with the Earth’s molten magma, and is let go through the ocean’s vents at around 650 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria and archaea feed on the minerals bubbling up here, which are then fed on by the deep sea marine life that can’t survive anywhere else. So essentially, these smoking ocean vents can create and support their own type of marine environment. While many originally thought life couldn’t exist in these environments, scientists have actually found more than 700 species that are unique to these vents.
And so there we have it, further proof that the ocean is essentially an entirely different planet altogether that we still have a lot to learn about.