Also known as ‘Hydrothermal Vents’, the Deep Sea Vents are perhaps the only one of the seven wonders of the underwater world that exist in a number of places on earth. While they can also occur above sea level, deep sea vents are small volcano-like structures that pump out gases and heated water from beneath the earth’s crust.
Typically occurring on or near tectonic plates and volcanoes, these vents simply release energy (in the form of heat) from the friction caused below. Much of the chemicals they produce actually provide basic marine life with sustenance and in turn animals up the food chain receive better quality food.
The most well known group of deep sea vents lie in Yellowstone National Park, North-Western US, where there is significant geothermal activity both below and above sea level. Earth is not the only planet believed to have housed deep sea vents either, as the remains of some have been found on our own moon and Jupiter’s moon (Europa) is also believed to have them today. These vents are often known as ‘black smokers’ or ‘white smokers’ due to the color of the plume that they emit. The latter are generally cooler than black smokers, due simply to their mineral composition.
Because the existence of Deep Sea Vents remained unknown until at least 1949, it is not possible for them to have been man made; they are entirely natural. Existing as much as 8200 feet below the water’s surface, it is extremely difficult to even explore deep sea environments of this nature, let alone build structures of this kind here.
Deep sea vents were and continue to be formed during a period of significant geothermal or even volcanic activity. Some continue to grow during subsequent activity, but they also often break and fall down, as the ‘Godzilla’ vent in the Pacific Ocean did when it reached 40 feet.
The vents themselves are formed when cold water travels down through mid ocean ridges and heats up when it reaches the molten rock beneath. Here the oxygen is removed from the water and minerals and metal flow into it (e.g. sulfur and zinc), before it is pushed up again through the deep sea vents at extremely high temperatures.
Why it Was Chosen:
CEDAM International (the American Diver’s association) named the seven wonders of the underwater world in 1989 for one reason: to raise awareness of underwater structures, in order to preserve and protect them from damage. In the case of the Deep Sea Vents this may have been a clever prediction, considering it wasn’t until 2007 that scientists, geologists and marine experts released a report saying the vents would not be resilient to damage from global warming.
The Deep Sea vents were not only chosen because they were in danger of damage, but also because of the way that they support life under the sea in a fundamental way. When submerged underwater, these hydrothermal vents spew out huge levels of chemicals and minerals that fish, sponges, whales, sharks and corals depend on for their health. If they were to become damaged and stop providing this sustenance, we would find a huge decline in marine life and biodiversity in our oceans.
How Can it Be Seen?
Unfortunately it is not possible to visit the deep sea vents, unless you are a geological expert. This is entirely due to their depth, which can reach up to a mile and a half below sea level. These depths cause immense pressure that crushes the human body and thus exploration must be carried out in submarine equipment. It’s also extremely cold at these depths, so you would not want to stay down there for very long.
The good news is – some vents exist above sea level and one of the best places to see this kind of geothermal activity is at Yellowstone National Park; a 2,219 acre park that extends mainly through the US state of Wyoming, but also through Idaho and Montana. Here you can go hiking, skiing, camping, fishing and also take tours of the geysers, which erupt around 200 to 250 times every single year (giving you a good chance of seeing one on the day that you decide to go!). Don’t worry; although the water that erupts from these natural structures is very hot at first, it cools on impact with the air and so cannot burn you, but will simply get you wet.