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Scientists have discovered a new way in which ocean water circulates through deep-sea vents.
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Courtesy of Zina Deretsky/National Science Foundation

Earthquakes Under Pacific Ocean Floor Reveal Surprising Flow of Water
News story originally written on January 11, 2008

A group of scientists have been studying an area of the ocean floor called the East Pacific Rise, which is about 565 miles southwest of Acapulco, Mexico. The East Pacific Rise is a ridge along the ocean floor where the sea floor is spreading.

These scientists have learned that tiny earthquakes along this ridge are being created when the cold ocean water passes through hot rocks and picks up their heat. This process shrinks the rocks and cracks them, creating small earthquakes. Then the seawater is forced down into the new spaces made by the earthquakes. This water gets heated by the hot magma and rises back to the seafloor and bubbles through vents in the sea floor back up into the ocean. Maya Tolstoy, a geologist studying this area, says this process is very similar to what happens in a pot of boiling water.

This is a very large system, and the scientists think a billion gallons of water flow through it each year! When the water rises back up into the ocean through the seafloor, it brings up minerals that were dissolved in the hot water below. Some rare animals feed off this "stew" of minerals and hot water, and scientists have been studying these vents to see how some animals can live in such a harsh environment!

Last modified April 29, 2008 by Becca Hatheway.

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