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Hydrothermal vent systems could have persisted millions of years, incubated life

anets in our solar system, says Jeff Karson, Duke University professor. "Peridotite can be exposed by tectonic processes or by major cratering events. This means that Lost City-type venting could occur, or has occurred, in oceans on other planets, and such venting would have the potential to support microbial systems."

Lost City-type systems also may be conducive to life because their fluids are high pH and rich with organic compounds compared to black-smoker systems.

Black smokers get their name because it can appear as if smoke is billowing from the vents. What's actually being seen are dark minerals precipitating when scalding hot vent waters meet the icy-cold ocean depths. Water venting at Lost City, in comparison, is hot enough to shimmer but not "smoke." Because of the different chemistry, black-smoker vents are a darkly mottled mix of sulfide minerals whereas the Lost City vents are nearly 100 percent carbonate, the same material as limestone in caves, and range in colors from white to cream to gray.

The field, named Lost City in part because it sits on a seafloor mountain named the Atlantis Massif, was discovered Dec. 4, 2000, when scientists weren't even looking for hydrothermal vents.

"The discovery of the Lost City vent field is a wonderful example of serendipity in science studying one problem and discovering something totally new and unexpected," says David Epp, program director in NSF's marine geology and geophysics program. "The detailed work is just beginning and should change the way people think about vent systems."


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Contact: Sandra Hines
shines@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
24-Jul-2003


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