Geography Oceanography, and Weather


What are black smokers?

Black smokers are actually deep-ocean hydrothermal (hot water) vents, named after the dark, soot-like material ejected from “chimney” formations on the ocean floor. The material is actually superheated water (around 662°F [350°C]) with very high concentrations of dissolved minerals—mostly sulfur-bearing minerals or sulfides from lava on a mid-ocean ridge volcano. As the hot water meets the cold ocean waters, the minerals precipitate out, settling out around the surrounding rock. Over time, the hollowed-out chimneys grow taller as more minerals precipitate out.

Black smokers tend to occur in volcanic vent fields that are typically tens of yards across, with fields ranging from pool-table size (43 square feet [4 square meters]) to tennis court size (8,288 square feet [770 square meters]). For example, vent fields are found on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a mid-ocean ridge in the Pacific Ocean. Many vents have been discovered since the first site was found in 1977 near the Galapagos Islands (in the small research submersible Alvin), and there are probably many more. But scientists have only explored a small portion of the Earth’s mid-ocean ridges.


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