The first discovery of a new type of hydrothermal vent system in a decade helps explain the long observed disconnect between the theoretical rate at which the Earth's crust is cooling at seafloor spreading ridge flanks, and actual observations. It could also help scientists interpret the evidence for past global climates more accurately.
This discovery has been made by scientists at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and the University of Southampton using a combination of robot-subs and remotely operated vehicles operated by the NOC.
Dr Bramley Murton, who co-supervised this research, published today in Nature Communications, said "This will really improve our understanding of how the Earth's interior cools. Theory has long predicted that there must be more cooling in certain locations on the Earth's crust than we could account for using the known mechanisms....and this new class of hydrothermal vent system may account for that difference."
What makes these hydrothermal vent systems different is that the source of heat driving them comes from hot rock pushed towards the seabed by low angle faults, called tectonic spreading centres, rather than volcanic heat from magma chambers. Dr Murton has been involved in research that discovered tectonic seafloor spreading centres at a number of sites across the ocean floor.