A new "black smoker"--an undersea mineral chimney emitting hot springs of iron-darkened water--has been discovered at 8,500-foot depths by an expedition funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore the Pacific Ocean floor off Costa Rica.
Scientists from Duke University, the Universities of New Hampshire and South Carolina, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts have named their discovery the Medusa Hydrothermal Vent Field.
The researchers chose that name to highlight the presence there of a unique pink form of the jellyfish order stauromedusae. The jellyfish resemble "the serpent-haired Medusa of Greek myth," said expedition leader Emily Klein, a geologist at Duke University.
The bell-shaped jellyfish sighted near the vents may be of a new species "because no one has seen this color before," said Karen Von Damm, a geologist at the University of New Hampshire.
According to Von Damm, stauromedusae are usually found away from high-temperature hydrothermal vents, where the fluids are a little bit cooler, not close to the vents as these are.
Aboard the Research Vessel (R/V) Atlantis, the researchers are studying ocean floor geology of the East Pacific Rise, one of the mid-ocean ridge systems where new crust is made as the earth spreads apart to release molten lava.
"Each new vent site has the potential to reveal new discoveries in interactions between hot rocks beneath the seafloor, the fluids that interact with those rocks and the oceans above, as well as a rich biosphere that depends on vent processes," said Adam Schultz, program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the expedition through its Ridge 2000 program. "This discovery has implications for understanding the origin of Earth's crust, its evolution over time and how living organisms adapt to extreme environmental conditions."