Sited along a volcanic ridge, the 2,000-foot-long Mothra Field is a hydrothermal vent 200 miles off the coast of Washington State. The fantastical landscape is more than a mile beneath the sea surface and home only to life that can withstand tremendous pressure, acidity, and heat. The foundation for this unusual ecosystem? Hot, mineral-rich water jetted from stone structures called black smokers, which are themselves formed by minerals in the water.
This photo shows a three-foot-high black smoker in an area dubbed the Faulty Towers Complex. Water spewing from the smoker reaches 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
The heat and minerals around a hydrothermal vent create conditions that allow bacteria and animals to colonize the site.
Some black smokers in Mothra Field are 60 feet tall. This one is 24 feet.
Lacy sponges living on a collapsed lake of lava make life look easy 7,000 feet below the sea surface.
In a section called the Faulty Towers Complex, a black smoker called Finn is home to a bacterium--strain 121--that holds the world's record for heat tolerance: It lives in water as hot as 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
A skate wanders by the smoker. Fractures cutting the chimney are lined with white bacteria.
Close-up of part of a smoker about 2 miles north of the Mothra Field, on a structure called Strawberry Fields.
Strawberry Fields is named after a colony of red-plumed tubeworms that live on it. Tubeworms have no mouth, gut, or anus. Codependency is their MO: They harbor bacteria in their tissue that produce food for them; in turn, the tubeworm absorbs minerals and nutrients that feed the bacteria.