Just Science #3: Blue Smokers


From JAMSTEC, Chimney of “Blue Smoker” at a depth of 1470 m

Just Science Entry #3
Hydrothermal vents appear from ruptures in the newly created basalt along mid-oceanic ridges. At fractures the surrounding cold water penetrates the crust and mix with red-hot basalt. This mixture emerges through three types of hot springs seafloor.

In some cases the liquid simply emerges through a crack or crevice at temperatures ranging from a cool? 5-250 degrees C. At black smokers (270-380 degrees C) and white smokers (100-300 degrees C) the vent liquid is hotter The vent liquid emerges forming structures from precipitated minerals that collect due to the surrounding low temperature and extreme pressure. At black smokers water causes the metal- and sulfide-rich, acidic fluid to mix with cold, basic seawater. This causes the metals to precipitate. At white smokers, the cooler temperature don’t allow metal precipitates to form, instead silica, anhydrite, and barite precipitate. At black smokers the precipitates can create 10-20m high columns (chimneys). Sometimes on the sides and tops of chimneys, beehive type formations can occur or flanges (think shelf mushrooms on a tree).

Researchers at JAMSTEC (Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology) have recently added another vent type, Blue Smoker.


From JAMSTEC, Blue hydrothermal emission (“Blue Smoker”)

The feature was videotaped by chance in August 2006, when JAMSTEC researchers were diving aboard their deep-sea research submersible Shinkai 6500, on a press jaunt with a television crew. In a lava dome in the Okinawa Trough, 1,470 metres deep in the southern waters of Japan, where clear, hot fluid was bubbling out of the sea floor, the researchers caught on film the sudden, unexpected emergence of white and blue smoke. The colour change is undoubtedly due to a change in chemistry in the water, probably caused by a change in magma activity below. But why it is blue, and what that means for researchers’ understanding of hotspots, is unclear.

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

One Reply to “Just Science #3: Blue Smokers”

  1. Unfortunately, I needed to be a “premium” subscriber to access the article, which Penn State does not qualify as. I am curious to how prevalent the blue smoke is at other vent edifices in the Okinawa Trough or whether it is an isolated incident. Could it be possible that the blue is coming from high concentrations of Cobalt, Chromium or Copper?

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