Near the summit of an underwater mountain west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a jagged landscape of towers rises from the darkness.
Their milky carbonate walls and columns take on a ghostly blue under the lights of the remote-controlled vehicles sent to explore. Their heights range from small piles the size of toadstools to massive boulders 60 meters (nearly 200 feet) tall. This is the lost city.
In 2000, scientists discovered that more than 700 m (2,300 ft) below the surface, The Lost Urban Hydrothermal Field is the longest-lived ventilated environment known to the ocean. Never found anything else like it.
For at least 120,000 years or more, the rising mantle in this part of the world reacted with seawater, spewing hydrogen, methane and other dissolved gases into the ocean.
In the cracks and crevices of oil field vents, hydrocarbons provide food for new microbial communities even when no oxygen is present.
The temperature of the gas emitted by the chimney is up to 40 °C (104°F) It is home to a large number of snails and crustaceans. Large animals such as crabs, shrimp, sea urchins and eels are rare but still present.
Despite the extreme nature of the environment, it appears to be teeming with life, and some researchers believe it deserves our attention and protection.
While other hydrothermal fields like these may exist elsewhere in the world’s oceans, this is the only remote-controlled vehicle that has been found so far.
The hydrocarbons produced by the vents of the Lost City are not formed by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or sunlight, but by chemical reactions on the deep ocean floor.
Because hydrocarbons are the building blocks of life, this opens up the possibility that life could have originated in habitats like this one. Not just on our own planet.
“This is an example of an ecosystem type that can be active on Enceladus or Europa right away,” microbiologist William Brazelton told the Smithsonian in 2018, referring to The moons of Saturn and Jupiter.
“Maybe it used to be Mars.”
Unlike the underwater crater known as the “Smoky Ghost,” which has been described as a possible first habitat, the Lost City ecosystem doesn’t depend on the heat of magma.
Black smokers mainly produce minerals rich in iron and sulfur, and the smokestacks of the Lost City produce up to 100 times more hydrogen and methane.
The Lost City’s calcite vents are also much larger than the Black Smokers, suggesting they were active longer.
The tallest boulder is named Poseidon, named after the Greek god of the sea, and is more than 60 meters long.
Meanwhile, just to the northeast of the tower, is a cliffside with brief activity. Researchers at the University of Washington describe the vents here as “weeping” with fluid to produce “clusters of delicate, multi-legged carbonate growths that extend outward like the fingers of an upturned hand. “.
Unfortunately, scientists aren’t the only ones drawn to this unusual terrain.
In 2018, Poland announced rights to deep-sea mining around the Lost City. While there are no valuable resources to tap in the actual thermal field itself, the destruction of the environment around the city can have unintended consequences.
This is the Lost City, a towering ecosystem in the middle of the North Atlantic. It is completely unique, and life cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. If someone wants to destroy it? There is nothing you can do about it. There is no law. There are no consequences. Welcome to the high seas… pic.twitter.com/mdG5wOsr5h
— High Seas Exploration (@RebeccaRHelm) August 22, 2022
Scientists have warned that any plumes or emissions triggered by mining could easily wash over this remarkable habitat.
As a result, some experts are calling for the Lost City to be placed on the World Heritage List to preserve the natural wonder before it’s too late.
For tens of thousands of years, the Lost City has been a testimony to the immortal power of life.
Just like we broke it.