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DR KEN MACDONALD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY DR KEN MACDONALD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Life around a black smoker. Black smokers are hydrothermal vents where superheated mineral-rich water escapes from the sea floor. When it meets the cold water some of the minerals precipitate, forming tall spires of rock. The remaining water escapes, resembling smoke leaving a chimney. The chemicals released form the basis of an ecosystem that does not rely on sunlight, and they form oases of life on the seabed. Black smokers were discovered in 1979 on the East Pacific Rise, some three kilometres deep, by scientists using the submersible Alvin.
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