Black Smokers Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Black Smokers

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Black smokers are one of the most amazing things to visit on this planet. However, getting to them can be a bit of a problem. The main trouble is that they are only found on the edge of tectonic plates, way down deep at the bottom of the ocean. This makes special equipment a must, even for the seasoned traveller.

Black smokers are volcanic vents on the sea floor that continually expel superheated water. Dissolved minerals give the fluid a black smokey look, like an undersea industrial chimney.

If you manage to get on to a mini submersible, or into the control room of a remote operated vehicle, to see black smokers, a real treat is in store. Surrounding black smokers is particularly strange sealife. It is one of the only known ecosystems that doesn't depend on the sun for energy. This unique system means that this is the only place on Earth that you will find animals such as tubeworms, often over a metre long, subsisting on the warmth of the water and on the minerals that spew from the smokers. There are some theories that smokers are the cradle of all life on this planet.

These chemo-synthetic beasties then make up the staple diet of a number of more recognisable creatures, such as crabs and octopi, though most of these are pale variations of their more conventional relations.

On the barren desert of the deep ocean floor, the area surrounding these smokers is an oasis of life. They are not eternal structures, and they often close up, springing up elsewhere to be rapidly colonised by free-swimming larvae.

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