Researchers discovered an abundance of life near a deep geothermal vent on the bottom of Yellowstone Lake. They used a remotely operated vehicle built by the same man who made the one for Titanic research to survey the floor of the very large cold lake. Near the vent they found moss, worms and shrimp, at a depth of about 100 feet in 90 degree water. (Surface waters rarely exceed 64 degrees Fahrenheit). The warmed vent water contains nutrients, gases, and even poisons.
Before this discovery it was assumed there wasn’t much life on the lake’s floor. “The proliferation of complex higher organisms in close association with a Yellowstone Lake geothermal vent parallels that documented for deep marine vents, although to our knowledge this is the first such documentation for a freshwater habitat,” said the report published in Geobiology. (Source: Physorg.com)
The very warm water makes the area near the vent hospitable to life forms. Also the moss is able to live there due to the nutrient rich waters. It is thought the moss ingests the nutrients, and the worms and shrimp eat the moss. Though the water would be seen as completely dark by humans, there actually is a very low level of light. Otherwise, the moss would not be able to live due to an absence of photosynthesis. Hundreds of active and dormant vents can be observed on the lake floor, mostly in the northern part. There are thousands of species living in the lake. Some live in the cold water, and others in the geothermally warmed parts.
A microorganism found on the lake’s floor in the 1960s played a role in the development of contemporary DNA testing. It was found to be a better source for an enzyme used in DNA analysis. (Thermus aquaticus is a bacteria that thrives at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.) The DNA analysis and enzyme production now produce about $100 million annually. Some of this money is supposed to be shared with the National Park Service.
Yellowstone Lake is at 7,732 feet above sea level. In winter, ice nearly three feet thick covers most of the surface. Yellowstone National Park is known for its geysers, mudholes, hot springs, hot springs terraces and steam vents, but the lake also has a lot of geothermal activity.
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