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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Deep Sea Hot Springs

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about an underwater oasis, discovered twenty-five years ago, that re-defined the origins of life.


CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Trisome 21, "Magnified Section of Dreams", A MILLION LIGHTS (Play It Again Sam – 1987)]

CURWOOD: Twenty-five years ago a group of deep-sea researchers stumbled on life in an unexpected place. They took a submarine named Alvin on a dive 200 miles northeast of the Galapagos Islands and went so deep into the ocean all natural light disappeared. A mile and a half below the surface they turned the submarine’s lights on, and they saw what they expected – a virtual moonscape, devoid of life. At the time, you see, everyone thought photosynthesis was the source of energy for all organisms and where there was no light, there was no life. But as Alvin crept along, a small crab suddenly skittered across the sea floor. The astonished crew followed, the temperature started to rise, and the water turned cloudy. Giant white clams appeared, as well as three-foot long tubeworms and six-inch yellow mussels. It was a huge community, built around deep-sea hot springs, and the first ever ecosystem discovered to be independent of solar radiation. Instead of photosynthesis, chemosynthesis is the key to life in these hydrothermal areas, and bacteria break down sulfur compounds to serve as food for deep-sea critters. The discovery bent all previous rules for life and revealed a thriving underworld that was anything but green. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.



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