Ocean explorers are uncovering a whole gaggle of new undersea gardens from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean powered by nothing but hot water, and rich in both exotic life and valuable ores.
Geothermal vents on the ocean floor had previously been thought possible only in places like the eastern Pacific, where the relatively rapid spreading apart of tectonic plates creates seafloor volcanic activity to power the fields of smoking hot water.
Now, scientists have found vents in the Arctic Ocean, along the mid-Atlantic Ridge and discovered a vastly productive hot water spout in the Indian Ocean.
"Up to 20 years ago all these new discoveries were in regions that were off-limits," says hydrothermal vent specialist Professor Peter Rona of Rutgers University.
In other words, they were in places where the seafloor is spreading apart more slowly than in the eastern Pacific, where Rona discovered the famous "black smoker" vents in 1979.
Then, a hydrothermal site known as TAG was found with a huge mound of hydrothermally created iron, copper, zinc, gold and silver ores about 3 kilometres underwater along the mid-Atlantic Ridge.
"It changed the picture of seafloor hot springs from regional to global," Rona said at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.