Cold Seep Essay

1095 words - 5 pages

Cold Seeps
A cold seep (sometimes called a cold vent) is an area of the ocean floor where hydrogen sulfide, methane and other hydrocarbon-rich fluid seepage occurs. Cold seeps are distinct from hydrothermal vents: the former's emissions are of the same temperature as the surrounding seawater, whereas the latter's emissions are super-heated. Cold seeps constitute a biome supporting several endemic species. Cold seeps occur over fissures on the seafloor caused by tectonic activity. Oil and methane "seep" out of those fissures, are diffused by sediment, and emerge over an area several hundred meters wide. Methane (CH4) is the main component of what we commonly refer to as natural gas. In ...view middle of the document...

Like the mussels, tubeworms rely on chemosynthetic bacteria (in this case, a type that needs hydrogen sulfide instead of methane) for survival. True to any symbiotic relationship, a tubeworm also provides for their bacteria by appropriating hydrogen sulfide from the environment. The sulfide not only comes from the water, but is also mined from the sediment through an extensive "root" system a tubeworm "bush" establishes in the hard, carbonate substrate. A tubeworm bush can contain hundreds of individual worms, which can grow a meter or more above the sediment.
Unlike hydrothermal vents, which are volatile and ephemeral environments, cold seeps emit at a slow and dependable rate. Likely owing to the differing temperatures and stability, cold seep organisms are much longer-lived than those inhabiting hydrothermal vents. Indeed, recent research has revealed seep tubeworms to be the longest living non-colonial invertebrates known, with a minimum lifespan of between 170 and 250 years. Cold seeps do not last indefinitely. As the rate of gas seepage, slowly decrease, the shorter-lived, methane-hungry mussels (or more precisely, their methane-hungry bacterial symbionts) start to die off. At this stage, tubeworms become the dominant organism in a seep community. As long as there is some sulfide in the sediment, the sulfide-mining tubeworms can persist. Individuals of one tubeworm species Lamellibrachia luymesi have been estimated to live for over 250 years in such conditions.
Cold seeps were discovered in 1983 by Dr. Charles Paull on the Florida Escarpment in the Gulf of Mexico at a depth of 3,200 meters (10,500 ft). Since then, seeps have been discovered in other parts of the world's oceans. They have also been grouped into several biogeography provinces Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, Mediterranean, East Pacific, and West Pacific and under an ice shelf in Antarctica. Those localities include the Monterey Canyon just off Monterey Bay, California, the Sea of Japan, off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the Atlantic off of Africa and in waters off the coast of Alaska. The deepest seep community known is found in the Japan Trench at a depth of 7,326 m (24,035 ft). With the recent discovery of a methane seep in the Southern Ocean, methane seeps are now known in all oceans. Cold seeps are patchily distributed and they occur most frequently near ocean margins from intertidal to hadal depths. Methane seeps are common along continental margins in areas of...

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