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Into the Deep
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

Get the facts behind the frame in this online-only gallery. Pick an image and see the photographer’s technical notes.

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Map of East Pacific Rise and Mid-Atlantic Ridge

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By Richard A. Lutz Photographs by Emory Kristof

Dramatic new imagery from the Pacific seafloor reveals abundant life in a world without sunlight.

Get a taste for what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Water heated as high as 760°F (404°C) by magma from Earth’s interior billows from a seafloor chimney. The surrounding ocean is just a few degrees above freezing. When the two fluids meet, iron sulfide precipitates, giving the “black smoker” its color. In these dark depths, chemosynthesis—based on thermal and chemical energy from the vents—is the primary mechanism sustaining life.

A living cloud flecks the water around a clump of limpet-encrusted tube worms and mustard-yellow mussels in the high-definition image at far right. With a magnifying lens on another camera the cloud resolves into a crowd of flea-like crustaceans called amphipods. Amphipod swarms like this one—observed at 9° N on the East Pacific Rise—may be the densest concentrations of invertebrate life on Earth.

High-intensity lighting and high-resolution imaging technologies provide researchers with the equivalent of a microscope to examine life in the deep sea. These tools can reveal organisms that have always been part of vent communities but have been hidden until now.

Timothy Shank, a marine ecologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, calls the array of previously unknown species found at vents “mind-boggling.” He has calculated that, on average, a new species has been described every week and a half since biologists first visited the Galápagos Rift vents in 1979. “More than 20 years later,” he says, “we’re still on the tip of the iceberg. We’re trying to understand relationships among vent animals—and we’re still discovering new species!”

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic Magazine.

Dive into the Deep with IMAX producer Stephen Low and watch the life that exists in the super-heated world of deep sea vents.

Video 1: Introduction
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     Windows Media

Video 2: Alvin
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Video 3: Challenges
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Life based on chemosynthesis (thermal and chemical energy) exists in the deep sea. How do you think the existence of such unusual creatures affects the probability of finding life on other planets?

In More to Explore the National Geographic Magazine team shares some of their best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

The men and women who pilot deep-submergence vehicles are members of a very exclusive club.

Out of the world’s five deep-sea submersibles, the American one, Alvin, operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, spends more time than its Japanese, French, and two Russian cousins on the ocean floor, making somewhere between 150 and 175 dives a year. Most of the photographs of the exotic creatures and features you see in the October issue were taken from Alvin at the 9° N vent field in the fall of 1999.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Woods Hole is the largest independent oceanographic institution in the world. This comprehensive website details on-going projects and research efforts. To learn about Alvin, the deep-sea submersible from which most of our story’s photographs were taken, go to www.marine.whoi.edu/ships/alvin/alvin.htm.

Marine Advanced Technology Education Center
Want to hear what a scientific research ocean cruise is really like? This site, sponsored by the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center, features daily dispatches and photographs from aboard the R.V. Atlantis on its April 2000 journey to 9° N, where many of our sea vent photos were taken. The site also contains an extensive list of related links.

Extreme 2000—Voyage to the Deep
At this interactive website you can go diving in the deep-sea submersible Alvin with scientists studying hydrothermal vents in the Sea of Cortés off the west coast of Mexico.


Delaney, John R. “Life on the Seafloor and Elsewhere in the Solar System,” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1998, 10.

Feldman, Robert A., Timothy M. Shank, Michael B. Black, Amy R. Baco, Craig R. Smith, and Robert C. Vrijenhoek. “Vestimentiferan on a Whale Fall,” Biology Bulletin 194, April, 1998, 116-119.

Humphris, Susan E. and Tom McCollom. “The Cauldron Beneath the Seafloor,” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1998, 18.

Lin, Jian. “Hitting the Hotspots,” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1998, 34.

Macdonald, Ken C. “Exploring the Global Mid-Ocean Ridge.” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 1, 1998, 2.

Mullineaux, Lauren and Donal Manahan. “The LARVE Project Explores How Species Migrate from Vent to Vent,” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1998, 6.

Sawyer, Kathy. “Signs of Earliest Life in Ocean Depths—Scalding Habitat May Have Supported Microbes, Fossils Indicate,” Washington Post, June 8, 2000.

Shank, Timothy, Daniel J. Fornari, Karen L. Von Damm, Marvin D. Lilley, Rachel M. Maymon, and Richard A. Lutz. “Temporal and Spatial Patterns of Biological Community Development at Nascent Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents (9° 50’ N, East Pacific Rise).” Deep-Sea Research II 45, 1998, 465-515.

Smith, Deborah K. and Johnson R. Cann. “Mid-Atlantic Ridge Volcanic Processes,” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 1, 1998, 11.

Tivey, Margaret Kingston. “How to Build a Smoker Chimney,” Oceanus, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1998, 22.

Van Dover, Cindy Lee. The Ecology of Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents. Princeton University Press, 2000.


Rona, Peter A. “Deep-Sea Geysers of the Atlantic.” National Geographic, Oct. 1992, 105-109.

Gordon, David George. “Explosions From the Deep.” National Geographic World, June 2000, 18-21.

Haymon, Rachel. Lutz, Richard A. “Rebirth of a Deep-sea Vent.” National Geographic, Nov. 1994, 114-126.

Woodman, Nancy. Sea-Fari Deep. National Geographic Books, 1999.


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