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Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Light at deep sea hydrothermal vents

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Abstract

We usually think of the bottom of the sea as a dark environment, lit only by flashes of bioluminescent light. Discovery of light associated with geothermal processes at deep sea hydrothermal vents forces us to qualify our textbook descriptions of the seafloor as a uniformly dark environment. While a very dim glow emitted from high temperature (350°) vents (black smokers) at mid-oceanic ridge spreading centers has been documented [Van Dover et al, 1988], the source of this light and its role, if any, in the evolution and adaptation of photobiochemical processes have yet to be determined.

Preliminary studies indicate that thermal radiation alone may account for the “glow” ]Smith and Delaney, 1989] and that a novel photoreceptor in shrimp-colonizing black smoker chimneys may detect this “glow” [Van Dover et al., 1989; Pelli and Chamberlain, 1989]. A more controversial question, posed by C. L. Van Dover, J. R. Cann, and J. R. Delaney at the 1993 LITE Workshop at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, is whether there may be sufficient light of appropriate wavelengths to support geothermally driven photosynthesis by microorganisms.

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