Lights, Camera, No Action

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Science  22 Feb 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5559, pp. 1427
DOI: 10.1126/science.295.5559.1427b

Deep sea hydrothermal vents are crawling with creatures too strange to appear in a Steven Spielberg movie. Submersible-based research has documented the lifestyles of many of these organisms, which live in the dark and extract energy from chemosynthetic rather than photosynthetic processes. Nonetheless, there are glimmers of light produced by thermal radiation at the vents (about 350°C), and many have wondered whether there are enough photons to feed the sluggish sealife at the bottom of the ocean.

White et al. used a low-light, charge-coupled device camera to measure the spatial and spectral emissions from two hydrothermal vent fields in the Pacific. The photon flux in the wavelength range of 400 to 600 nm was greater than the calculated photon flux of the thermal radiation. They attribute the excess light to vapor bubble luminescence, chemiluminescence (mixing of sulfides with vent fluids), crystalloluminescence (crystallization of minerals escaping from the vent), and triboluminescence (crystal fracturing). The photon flux between 600 to 900 nm was orders of magnitude too low for photosynthetic activity; the photon flux at 900 to 1000 nm was greater, but still below the minimum flux required even by organisms adapted to low light conditions. — LR

J. Geophys. Res.107, 10.1029/2000JB000015 (2002).

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