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Animal Life Discovered at a Depth of 8,000 Feet in the Ocean

By: Sandy Wang

Thousands of feet below sea level, animals thrive near hydrothermal vents, which are like underwater geysers, often at a temperature of 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Before, scientists only knew about life on the surfaces of the vents, but new technology has allowed them to discover animals living underneath the vents.

In July, a robot dove to the bottom of the hydrothermal vents and turned over a piece of volcanic bedrock to reveal an abundance of life.

“This is the first time that animal life was found below the surface [of hydrothermal vents],” said Monika Bright, the head scientist of the expedition.

Scientists knew for a long time that the surface of the vents were home to many weird creatures, with tubeworms being the most common among them. But the discovery of life under the vents shocked them. It seemed unlikely that there would be animals thriving in a place with so little oxygen and so many toxic chemicals in the water.

Still, Dr. Bright believed that it is possible to find tubeworms and other animals living beneath the vents.

So, she led a team on Falkor, a research ship owned by the Schmidt Ocean Institute. For 33 days, from June 27 to July 29, the scientists sailed to the East Rise where they set loose SuBastian, a remote-controlled robot with two appendages to which drills, scoops and saws can be affixed.

SuBastian turned over some volcanic rocks and revealed several hollows – glassy rock cavities with arches and pillars made of frozen lava. Inside these hollows, the water’s temperature was surprisingly 75 degrees Fahrenheit. And wherever SuBastian looked, it was greeted by an explosion of animal life.

“They were just growing in there, living in there,” Dr. Bright said.

Many dream of new discoveries out in space, but for Dr. Bright, Earth is all that matters. “I’m not thinking of other planets and moons — I’m thinking that there’s so much mystery to be discovered in our Earth,” she said. “I feel like I know this place. I’ve studied this place for 30 years. And still, you can find something unexpected.”

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