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No. 60: Nov-Dec 1988

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Mystery Glow On The Sea Floor

"Marine scientists have discovered two thermal vents on the seabed that glow in the dark. A group of researchers, led by oceanographers from the University of Washington, detected faint light during an expedition to the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The ridge and the vents, 300 km off the coast of British Columbia, follow an underwater fault formed by the junction of the Juan de Fuca and the Pacific tectonic plates...John Delaney, leader of the expedition, described the glow as a 'flame-like light' that seems to emanate from the super-heated water emerging from the thermal vents, 2200 meters below the surface...'The source of the light is still unclear,' said Joe Cann, a geologist from the University of Newcastle in Britain. The scientists suspect that the water itself is glowing."

The water temperature is so high -- 350C -- that bioluminescence is unlikely. The presence of the glow does, however, imply that photosynthesis is still possible in these sunless depths. Life forms do congregate around these vents. A curious shrimp found in the area where the glow was noted is eyeless but does possess photoreceptors on its back!

(Dayton, Sylvia; "The Underwater Light Fantastic," New Scientist, p. 32, August 25, 1988. Also: Anonymous; "Mystery Glow Emanates from Ocean Bottom," Albuquerque Tribune, August 18, 1988. Cr. D. Eccles.)

From Science Frontiers #60, NOV-DEC 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss