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The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Some of the chimneys of the hydrothermal vents.

9. The Lost City Pushes The Extremes Of Where Life Can Exist

Parts of the Lost City, especially in more interior areas, are anoxic, meaning that there is no oxygen present. Additionally, the pH is a staggering 9-11, making it so highly alkaline that most life forms would be unable to live there. Throw in the high heat – the temperature ranges from 120 degrees Fahrenheit to nearly boiling – and you may wonder what life could exist there at all.

That life can exist in such an extreme environment is indeed a puzzle for scientists and one that they are happy to seek out the answer to by studying the Lost City.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Emissions from one of the hydrothermal vents.

10. The Vents Have Been Active For Over 120,000 Years

In fact, data shows that some of the vents may have been active for over 150,000 years. 150,000 years ago, human civilization was far from even beginning. This makes the structures found at the vents much, much older than anything built by humans.

This means that they are the oldest continually-active hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. The chimneys – the stacks that have built up around the vents – are so large because the vents have been emitting minerals and other materials from beneath the ocean floor for so many thousands of years.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Expedition to the Lost City.

11. The Field Has Thirty Vents, Both Active And Inactive

Because of the composition of the mineral-enriched water that spews out of the vents, the chimneys that have formed around the vents are composed mostly of calcite, brucite, and aragonite. As a result, the chimneys have a white color.

Some of the vents are active, meaning that they routinely spew heated water from beneath the ocean floor. Some are inactive, meaning that they emitted the heated water in the past but currently do not. However, they may begin doing so again in the future.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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The chemical structure of methane

12. The Vents Release The Gases Hydrogen And Methane

The hydrogen concentration at the Lost City is considerably higher than even the highest hydrogen concentrations in similar environments that do not experience the eruptions that the vents at the Lost City do. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe.

The vents also release considerable amounts of methane, a hydrocarbon gas that is formed when one carbon atom combines with four hydrogen atoms. Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, and it contributes to the high temperature of the water found at the vents.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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pH scale

13. The pH Of The Surrounding Water Is Affected By The Vents

A neutral pH – room-temperature water that has not been ionized – is 7. Anything below 7 is considered to be acidic. Lemon juice and vinegar, both acidic, have a pH of 2. Battery acid, the most corrosive acid there is, has a pH of 0.

Anything above 7 is considered to be alkaline, or basic. Regular sea water has a pH of 8, and bleach has a pH of 12. The water surrounding the vents has a pH of between 9 and 11, depending on the location, making it markedly more alkaline than regular sea water.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Serpentinite rock, which resembles a snakeskin

14. They Do Not Produce Significant Quantities Of Metals

Most water, especially mineral-rich water – such as that emitted by underground sources – tends to have at least trace amounts of metals, such as iron, nickel, and copper. However, the heated water that the vents emit is remarkably low in metals, perhaps most notably magnesium.

Because of the low metal content, hydrocarbons – such as methane – are able to form. If abiotic genesis is possible, scientists believe that the source may be hydrocarbons. Another result of the low metal content of the emitted water is that serpentinization reactions occur, which give the vents their characteristic chimneys.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Close-up of serpentinite rock

15. The Lack Of Metals Creates Unique Chemical Reactions

Perhaps the most notable chemical reaction that occurs at the Lost City is known as “serpentinization.” Despite the sound of the name, serpentinization has nothing to do with Harry Potter. Rather, it refers to the production of rocks that have a green, scaly surface, similar to the skin of a serpent.

The serpentinization that occurs at the vents is known as ultramafic-hosted serpentinization. This process leads to the creation of hydrocarbons and other molecules that some scientists believe is the source of abiotic genesis.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Image of Poseidon

16. The Largest Vent Chimney Is Known As “Poseidon”

Poseidon is nearly 200 feet tall, making it the most prominent and easily-recognizable feature of Lost City. Poseidon is actually crowned by four smaller chimneys that have formed by the tens of thousands of years of heated, mineral-rich water being emitted by its source vent.

Surrounding Poseidon are buttresses of smaller chimneys and other deposits that have built up around it. It basically looks like a giant cave formation – like stalactites and stalagmites that were formed by centuries or even millennia of dripping water.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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The vents break the mercury.

17. The Temperatures Of The Emissions Are Up To 91 Celsius

The temperatures at the vents are incredibly high. The coolest temperatures are around 40 degrees Celsius, which is well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiling point is 100 degrees Celsius, so for the temperatures at the vents to hit 91 degrees means that the water coming out is basically steam.

That life can thrive in this intensely hot environment is nothing short of remarkable. Keep in mind, though, that large life forms – such as crabs, eels, and fish – while present, are not abundant. Most life at the vents is microscopic, less than 1 centimeter across.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Chemical structure of some common hydrocarbons

18. One Result Of The Chemical Reaction Is The Synthesis Of Hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons are molecules composed only of carbon and hydrogen molecules. One hydrocarbon that is particularly dominant at the Lost City is methane, which consists of one carbon molecule joined to four hydrogen molecules. Hydrocarbons are important because they are part of the process of serpentinization, which gives the Lost City its characteristic white chimneys.

You are probably more familiar with hydrocarbons than you think. Petroleum and other fossil fuels are composed of hydrocarbons. Additionally, some chains of hydrocarbons are known as fats. The classification of “saturated” or “unsaturated” refers to the number of single- or double-hydrogen bonds in the hydrocarbons.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Sample hydrocarbon structure

19. Some Scientists See Hydrocarbons As Evidence For Abiogenesis

Scientists believe that abiotic generation, also known as abiogenesis, of hydrocarbons may occur at the vents of the Lost City. Some evidence suggests that hydrocarbons with a low molecular weight may be synthesized at the vents, through a unique type of reaction that occurs at the basement rocks.

Scientists believe that abiogenesis of hydrocarbons could be evidence of the abiotic generation of life, meaning life emerging from non-living matter. Hydrocarbons are an essential component of DNA, the building block of life. DNA is a molecule that is able to replicate itself, so it is possibly the smallest, most basic form of life.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Structure of DNA

20. Other Scientists Aren’t So Sure

Some scientists think that the abiotic genesis of low-weight hydrocarbons is not necessarily evidence for the abiotic genesis of life. There is a large leap from the generation of low-weight hydrocarbons, such as methane, and the generation of DNA molecules.

Microscopic forms of life do exist at the vents, and some of the lifeforms there do not exist anywhere else that we know of. However, there may be other ways to explain their presence, such as genetic mutation that enable them to thrive in the extreme environment of the vents.

The Amazing Truth About The Lost City, and What It Reveals About Underwater Mountains
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Abiogenesis would require DNA to form.

21. Abiogenesis Is An Aspect Of Darwinian Evolution

Abiogenesis is the process of life deriving from non-life material. Charles Darwin was concerned primarily about where species come from and devised his theory of evolution to show that there are species that derive from common ancestors. They differentiate to adapt to their environments through the idea of “survival of the fittest,” thereby developing into the different species that we see today.

Other scientists have since taken his theory to show that life derived from non-living matter, such as molecules that organize themselves into amino acids and DNA. To better understand this process of abiogenesis, many scientists have been studying the Lost City.

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