Scientists Find A Whole New Ecosystem Hiding Beneath Earth’s Seafloor

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Exploration and mapping of deep-sea life has come on in leaps and bounds over the last two decades, and the discoveries have been worth their weight in gold—like this new finding from the Schmidt Ocean Institute of life beneath undersea volcanic vents.

At a well-studied undersea volcano on the East Pacific Rise off Central America, an international team of marine biologists and oceanographers have discovered ecosystems of worms, snails, and bacteria living underground, under the seafloor.

Using an underwater robot, the science team overturned chunks of volcanic crust and discovered these narrow cave systems. Animals enter and exit them freely, adding a new dimension to hydrothermal vents, showing that their habitats exist both above and below the seafloor.

“On land we have long known of animals living in cavities underground, and in the ocean of animals living in sand and mud, but for the first time, scientists have looked for animals beneath hydrothermal vents,” says the institute’s executive director, Jyotika Virmani.

“This truly remarkable discovery of a new ecosystem, hidden beneath another ecosystem, provides fresh evidence that life exists in incredible places.”

Hydrothermal vents are fascinating underwater hotspots of life. As corals are the foundational creature of reefs, tube worms are a foundational species on the vents. However, their young have never been seen on the vents themselves, leading some scientists to hypothesize that they travel beneath them to reproduce.

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