December 4, 2021

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Surreal discoveries off the coast of Mexico

Surreal discoveries off the coast of Mexico

A thermal vent showing a large number of red tubeworms and white microbial mats.

A thermal vent showing a large number of red tubeworms and white microbial mats.
Photo: Schmidt Institute of the Oceans

A deep-sea scientific expedition off the coast of Mexico has discovered strange things on the ocean floor, including six potentially unknown animal species of arrowworms, crustaceans, mollusks and roundworms. The research team also found surprising hydrothermal vents It is fueled by geological activity under the sea floor.

The expedition, led by a multidisciplinary group of scientists from Mexico and the United States, took place over 33 days off the coast of the Mexican state of Baja California in the Gulf of California. The researchers used the Schmidt Institute ocean research vessel and published images that reveal some of the secrets of marine life in the deep sea.

Image of the article called Upside Down Lakes and Glowing Worms: Surreal Discoveries Off the Coast of Mexico

Photo: Schmidt Institute of the Oceans

The average depth of the Gulf of California is about one kilometer, although it sinks much deeper. The bay is a relatively young body of water, formed only 12.5 million years ago when the Baja California peninsula began to separate from the rest of the continent. The bay is also where the various tectonic plates split, forming four deep ocean basins that contain remarkable and little-studied features and life forms.

To explore what was there, the researchers used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that helped map the ocean floor, take pictures and samples, and deploy other scientific equipment. This robot, about the size of a pickup truck, can dive It reaches 4.5 kilometers under water.

Image of the article called Upside Down Lakes and Glowing Worms: Surreal Discoveries Off the Coast of Mexico

Photo: Schmidt Institute of the Oceans

One of the main goals of the expedition was to investigate what are known as hydrothermal vents: cracks in the ocean floor that expel warm, mineral-rich waters and provide a home for all kinds of wonderful creatures and life forms. hydrothermal vents It was first documented in the late 1970s, so we’re still learning a lot about how it works and life inside it, as well as discovering new vent sites around the world.

The hydrothermal vents in the Gulf of California are unique from vents in other parts of the world, thanks in part to the high levels of sediment that help alter the water’s chemical composition.

The ocean depths remain one of the solar system’s least explored frontiers. She said Robert Zirenberg, one of the mission’s principal investigators and emeritus professor of geology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of California, Davis. “Maps of our planet are not as detailed as those of Mercury, Venus, Mars or the Moon, because it is difficult to draw maps underwater. These are the limits.”

Image of the article called Upside Down Lakes and Glowing Worms: Surreal Discoveries Off the Coast of Mexico

Photo: Schmidt Institute of the Oceans

The vents the team discovered were close to the vents they first documented in 2018, which they named JaichaMaa ‘ja’ag, the original Yuman word for liquid metal. The name is due One of the characteristics of breathing : An underwater cave where hot liquid accumulates on top, creating a mirror effect that researchers describe as an “inverted lake.”

On this trip, they documented several other vents in the area, measuring water temperatures as high as 287 degrees Celsius. One was named Maija awi in honor of the water serpent in the creation myth of the Kumiai people who live in the Baja region. Another group of vents that researchers have dubbed Melsuu, the Yuman word for blue, is a reference to the number of stunning blue worms that lived in the vents.

Image of the article called Upside Down Lakes and Glowing Worms: Surreal Discoveries Off the Coast of Mexico

Photo: Schmidt Institute of the Oceans

About those worms, they are what are known as worms of size Peinaleopolynoe orphanae, which (adorably) means “hunger-sized worms” in Greek. These types of worms, also known as “shiny worms” because of their colorful appearance, do not Officially documented until last year. But researchers have an even more incredible nickname for them.

“Our nickname for them was Elvis Worms because they look like sequins on an Elvis jumpsuit,” marine biologist and Scripps study researcher Greg Ross said. To Inside Science last year . It seemed that these worms would jump out at any opportunity to fight. A video taken by the 2018 Schmidt expedition shows blue worms in the Strange aggressive dance Between them, one seems to be trying to bite the other.

Image of the article called Upside Down Lakes and Glowing Worms: Surreal Discoveries Off the Coast of Mexico

Photo: Schmidt Institute of the Oceans

This excursion helped researchers learn more about these and other types of worms, as well as where they prefer to live among the vents.

“There seem to be differences in cuto what animal vent They dominate these various hydrothermal features, Victoria Orfan, one of the mission’s principal investigators, said in a press release. “Locations to the south had the highest density of blue worms, while others appeared to have more density of chemically manufactured anemones or tube worms.”

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