Tue. Oct 22nd, 2019

Lost City, an underwater sign of the origin of life under threat



In the middle of the Atlantic stands the Lost City, a submarine hydrothermal field that could keep clues about the origin of life and that is barely known, so scientists and environmentalists ask that it be protected against threats such as seabed mining.

Discovered in the year 2000 and named after the similarity that the chimneys that compose it keep with an abandoned metropolis, the Lost City aroused the curiosity of the scientific community because the extreme conditions that characterize it had not been seen in other hydrothermal fields.

"It was something that we had never seen before, some white towers that are erected from the bottom of the sea", tells EFE the geochemistry Gretchen Früh-Green, the scientist who discovered the Lost City, before joining in Horta, in the Azores Portuguese, to a Greenpeace team to promote the protection of the hydrothermal field.

The discovery came during an expedition of the National Science Foundation of the United States to study the Atlantis underwater massif. Früh-Green was observing the images in a robotic camera when he saw several white towers appear.

After studying the area, the scientists of the expedition identified an atypical hydrothermal field, which did not resemble other similar structures discovered in the previous decades.

"It is very different because there is no volcanic activity, which is usual in hydrothermal fields, the waters that come out from under the earth are very alkaline, they are not acidic," explains the Swiss geochemistry.

These hot torrents, when coming into contact with the cold water of the sea, precipitate calcium carbonate that form enormous chimneys, pinnacles and hive-shaped deposits.

The field has large amounts of hydrogen and methane and little carbon dioxide, so the life forms that inhabit the area, mainly bacteria and archaea, withstand extreme conditions.

Voices of the scientific community consider that the chemical reactions that take place in the Lost City could resemble those that gave rise to life on Earth or even be an analogy of the processes that occur in planets like Mars or in some moons, where there is a lot of hydrogen and methane.

Therefore, they urge that the area be protected so that scientific work can continue and discover how the Lost City works and why it is different from the classic volcanic systems of black fumaroles.

"It's an area that we do not know much about and we should protect it," says Früh-Green, who warns that one of the threats to the Lost City is seabed mining.

Although "it has no metals, so the chances of it being exploited by mining are lower", according to geochemistry, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) granted a license last year. to the Government of Poland so that it could exploit the area where the Lost City is.

"It could potentially be out of the control of scientists and be destroyed while it is being exploited by mining," laments the scientist, who is collaborating in Greenpeace's latest campaign to promote the protection of the oceans.

On board his ship Esperanza, an expedition of the organization will spend this month in the Lost City to claim that it is beyond the reach of the mining industry.

"It is one of the battlefields that we need to protect and that shows why we need more rules to preserve the oceans," Greenpeace campaign manager Louisa Casson, who is part of the expedition, told EFE.

Greenpeace, along with other groups, is calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining, not only in the Lost City but throughout the planet, to allow the scientific community to study the ocean floor before being exploited.

"To send these huge machines to the bottom of the ocean to places that we do not yet know properly is a great risk, we should study the seabed, learn from it and support science," says Casson, warning that "we have already seen the past to the industry to move before we understood places like this. "

Seabed mining can not advance in international waters until there is a regulation, which the ISA plans to have ready within a year.

Paula Fernández

. (tagsToTranslate) City (t) Lost (t) sign (t) submarine (t) threat



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