Strange ecosystem discovered beneath the ocean's hellish hydrothermal vents

The ocean's hydrothermal vents are like hell on Earth—pitch black volcanic fissures with temperatures as high as 700 degrees Fahrenheit. For decades, scientists have been aware of the strange creatures that live in those challenging conditions, now they've discovered another world below. Researchers explored the deep waters off South America, using a tele-operated robot to flip rocks on the seafloor. Underneath, they found "a thriving a thriving microbial community of protists, bacteria, viruses and even some larger creatures such as snails and worms." From Scientific American:

According to Monika Bright, a zoologist at the University of Vienna, who led the expedition, the assortment of worms, snails and microscopic larvae and bacteria that reside down here adds a new layer of complexity to hydrothermal vent ecosystems, which scientists have studied since 1977.

"We've known about the vents above for a long time, but this is basically a completely new ecosystem below," Bright says. "It's especially strange that we found it in a place that is very well studied."

image: Schmidt Ocean Institute