WHOI In Motion

A Gallery of Animation and Video
from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Vent Movie   Up in "Smoke"
(QuickTime video, 2.0 MB)
In the late 1970s, WHOI scientists studying the geology and chemistry of the seafloor made a dramatic discovery along the East Pacific Rise not far from the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Diving 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) deep in Alvin, WHOI's deep-sea submersible, they came upon rocky fountains spewing forth what looked like smoke but proved otherwise. Mineral-rich, extremely hot fluid (up to 360° C) burst out of these structures, colliding with near-freezing seawater. The minerals in the hot fluid (manganese, copper, zinc, and iron sulfides) precipitated out, giving the plumes their smoky appearance. In the 20 years since that discovery, scientists have found hydrothermal vents along other sections of the world's ocean ridges. Marine geologists think that these vents dissipate heat from beneath the earth's crust as tectonic plates shift and spread. When seawater filters through cracks in the sides of the vent chimneys and the surrounding seafloor, it dissolves, combines, and precipitates minerals. This heated "soup" is released into the cold water, playing an important role in the chemical composition and heat balance of the oceans. Take a close look at a "smoker"!

Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Return to Gallery

Netscape Navigator 3.0 (or later version) and QuickTime software best present the clips on these pages. You may need to download the QuickTime software, a plug-in, or a helper application.
QuickTime Software
Netscape Plug-ins
Netscape Helpers

Page maintained by the WHOI Information Office and Graphic Services.