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KAUST Scientists Discover Giant Hydrothermal Vent Fields in Red Sea

The active vent fields on Hatiba Mons, a major volcano in the Red Sea, are considered the largest in the world.

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KAUST Scientists Discover Giant Hydrothermal Vent Fields in Red Sea

Scientists at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology have been able to find and observe active hydrothermal vent fields in the Red Sea for the first time.

Considered the largest in the world, the active vent fields on Hatiba Mons - a major volcano in the Red Sea - have long eluded scientists due to their extreme depth, high heat and corrosive environments, which would often destroy any recording device that would try to find them.

The project was led by KAUST Professor Foukje van der Zwan, and is the culmination of over a decade of observations and sample collection. Although the data has long suggested the existence of these vents, van der Zwan and her team were only recently able to observe them thanks to cameras mounted on remotely operated underwater vehicles that have been sent 1,000 metres under the Red Sea in 2022 and 2023.

The study, which was published in Communications Earth & Environment, maps out 45 vent fields. Unusually, all 14 of the vent fields that were directly observed were actively venting, which does not happen as often or across as large an area compared to midocean ridges worldwide.

The comparatively low temperatures of the vents, at 40C, has helped create several iron-oxyhydroxide mounts that host microbial communities, which in turn contribute to the creation of the mounds. The microbial communities are hypothesised to provide important clues on how life first formed in the deep sea.