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Life in the Deep Ocean

The deep ocean can be a difficult place to live.† The water is very cold and itís always dark there. Sunlight can not get down that far. Itís not always easy to find food. For some animals, food comes from the bodies of dead fish, dead plankton, and even dead whales that rain down from the shallower waters above.

But there are two very different environments in the deep ocean where many living things can survive. These are cold seeps and hydrothermal vents.†

Cold seeps are areas where natural gas and other chemicals are released into deep ocean water. Tiny microbes make energy from the chemicals. These microbes are food for many other creatures like clams, mussels, shrimp, crabs, bacteria, and tubeworms.

Hydrothermal vents are another type of deep sea environment. At vents, water is very hot. It is heated by volcanic activity at spreading ridges. The hot water picks up chemicals as it is heated. Certain types of microbes are able to turn the chemicals from the hot water into the energy they need to survive.† Many other types of living things including fish, shrimp, giant tubeworms, mussels, crabs, and clams live in this environment too.† Some of them, like mussels, clams, and the giant, 2-meter (6-foot) tubeworms, get the nutrition they need from microbes living in their bodies. Others, like shrimp and barnacles, eat microbes from the water.†

Last modified October 30, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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