Center For Ocean Sciences Education Excellence COSEE Ocean Systems
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Hydrothermal Vents
Category: For Educators, Ocean and Climate Literacy, For Scientists
Resource Type: Multiple formats
Date Posted: 02/15/2011

Concept map
Concept map on how organisms 'make a living' at hydrothermal vents (click image to enlarge)
Hydrothermal vents are one of the most spectacular features on the seafloor. They form in places where there is volcanic activity, such as along the Mid-Ocean Ridge. Water seeps through cracks in the seafloor and is heated by molten rock deep below the ocean crust to as high as 400°C. The hot fluid rises to the surface and gushes out of the vent openings. This hydrothermal fluid carries with it dissolved metals and other chemicals from deep beneath the ocean floor. Ecosystems have been found thriving at these vents, relying on chemosynthesis rather than photosynthesis.

Scientist-Generated Content
On August 10, 2010 Dr. Peter Girguis (Harvard University) presented a webinar on hydrothermal vents. Below is the webinar archive video (click image to view) and several additional clips. To learn more about this webinar and access Peter's concept map, click here.

Peter Girguis webinar presentation
Video Clips
What's A Smoker? Peter explains what "smokers" really are and what they release into the ocean
Chemosynthesis Hear about the role bacteria play in providing energy for hydrothermal vent systems
Pressurized Aquaria This clip talks about how Peter's lab keeps vent ecosystem animals alive using a mobile high-pressure research lab

Blogs on this Topic

Tube worms
Resources for Educators
Hydrothermal vents are a fascinating topic to feature in a biology or earth science curriculum. A unit on photosynthesis, ocean life, or even geology could be augmented with discussions of chemosynthesis, the unique life forms found at vents or even a discussion of how vents are formed.

Ocean Literacy Principle 5g: “There are deep ocean ecosystems that are independent of energy from sunlight and photosynthetic organisms. Hydrothermal vents, submarine hot springs, methane cold seeps, and whale falls rely only on chemical energy and chemosynthetic organisms to support life”

To learn more about Ocean Literacy click here.

Teacher resources
Teacher resources
Alignment to Standards
See how this topic addresses National Science Education Standards and Maine Learning Results
Additional Educational Resources
A list of activities, lesson plans and other online teacher resources on this topic

Sample Activity (contained in the Additional Educational Resources list):
FLEXE: From Local to Extreme Environments

Check out this page for an inquiry-based curriculum developed by Ridge 2000 scientists and teachers:

  • Photomosaics show students how biologists study animal distribution on the deep sea floor
  • Tubeworms and bacteria can teach about chemosynthesis and symbiosis
  • Learn about deep sea food webs and community dynamics
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