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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Deep Sea Chemical Reactions

Air Date: Week of August 1, 2003

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that a new type of deep sea vent might have been the origin of life on earth.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up: the promise and perils of digging for natural gas in the Peruvian Amazon. First, this note on emerging science from Cynthia Graber.

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GRABER: Two years ago, scientists discovered the tallest hydrothermal vent system in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. They named it Lost City, for the Lost City of Atlantis. And now, in a paper published in the journal Science, researchers explain why Lost City and similar vent systems could have incubated the earliest life on earth.

Previously discovered deep sea hot water vents are heated by volcanic activity beneath the planet’s surface. But Lost City’s heat is generated by a chemical reaction. Seawater seeping deep into the cracked surface of the earth’s mantle transforms a mineral called olivine into a new mineral called serpentine. This reaction produces heat. And the hot waters that flow back to the ocean are rich in minerals and organic compounds.

Scientists say that if these vents can occur without volcanic activity, then there are many more places on the seafloor where microbial life could have started. Also, these chemical reactions are stable, and researchers say they could theoretically be sustained for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years – the constant flow of hot water and minerals and organic compounds could have provided the perfect environment for life to catch hold.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Cynthia Graber

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Aphex Twin “Tha” Selected Ambient Works 85-92 Apollo 1993]

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

 

 

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