Bottom Dwellers

See some of the images brought up from early trips to the Galápagos Rift, where an ecosystem thrives around hydrothermal vents.

By | September 1, 2012

When scientists first discovered hydrothermal vents in a mid-ocean ridge northeast of the Galápagos Islands, they were stunned at the diversity of life thriving in the ocean depths. The deep-sea ecosystems they encountered were powered not by the energy of the sun, but by chemicals being spewed from deep within the Earth’s crust.Robert Hessler, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

When scientists first discovered hydrothermal vents in a mid-ocean ridge northeast of the Galápagos Islands, they were stunned at the diversity of life thriving in the ocean depths. The deep-sea ecosystems they encountered were powered not by the energy of the sun, but by chemicals being spewed from deep within the Earth’s crust.Robert Hessler, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Bottom Dwellers Image Gallery

In February of 1977, a team of geologists led by Richard Von Herzen and Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution discovered the first hydrothermal vents 8,000 feet below the ocean’s surface in the Galápagos Rift. There were no biologists on the original expedition because no one had expected to find life thriving in the perpetual darkness of the ocean depths. Therefore, it wasn't until 1979, during a separate expedition led by marine scientist J. Frederick Grassle, that biologists got their first look at the unique ecosystems of the vents. Watch some of the first images taken of the organisms of the Galápagos Rift vents in this slide show.

Read more about the discovery in "Life on the Ocean Floor."

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