Recently Revealed

Far from sunlight, sulfur supports strange life forms

In 1977 geologists exploring fractures in the ocean floor found more than they had anticipated. Large, odd-looking animals were surviving on the sunless, otherwise barren sea floor by what turned out to be an entirely unknown mode of life §.

Vent food web depends on sulfur--not sunlight.

Bacteria convert chemicals (from the sulfur-rich fluid spewed out of vents) to energy, in a process called chemosynthesis §.

Other animals eat bacteria, harbor bacteria in their bodies, or eat bacteria- eaters.

Vent worms have no mouth or digestive tract. Instead, chemosynthetic bacteria living in their tissues provide nourishment.

Hemoglobin (which transports hydrogen sulfide to the bacteria) makes the vent worms red.
illustration Linda Huff, courtesy of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society

Black smokers, the hottest submarine hot springs, can reach 518- 716 F (270-380 C).

The super-hot water laced with hydrogen sulfide and other minerals spews out of cracks in the earth's crust §. photo NOAA

More Information:

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)