The ocean is full of mysteries — take hydrothermal vents for example. Despite everything we’ve learned about the ocean, scientists didn’t know about these underwater hot springs until 1977, when they were first discovered near the Galapagos Islands. In 1982, hydrothermal vents were discovered much closer to home off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

We’re telling the story of these hydrothermal vents with a new model at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. Based on actual survey data, our large-scale 3D model comes courtesy of 3D Custom Foam Inc., the same people who work on Hollywood movies. The scale model depicts Mothra, one of the five vent fields at the site located on the Juan de Fuca Ridge.

With five active hydrothermal vent clusters, there are many fascinating facts about this unique underwater world. For instance:

  • temperatures can reach up to 400°C — talk about a hot spring!
  • the tallest chimney at this site is the same height as a six-storey building
  • micro-organisms living at the site don’t just withstand the spewing chemicals that are toxic to most life on Earth, they get energy from them
Black smoker

Hot mixed fluid – of seawater and chemical compounds – spews from this vent.

The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents is a Marine Protected Area managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Scientists with Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), an initiative of the University of Victoria, collect and analyze data collected by the undersea observatory NEPTUNE.

Come by the Aquarium to see the model up close, and in the meantime, watch this presentation by Dr. Tom Kwasnitschka, visiting scholar at ONC: Exploring the Ocean Floor with Digital Technology. He says, “The great challenge we still face… is to actually transport ourselves to the seafloor.”

A close-up look at the model.

A close-up look at the model.

There’s still so much for scientists to discover about a place they’re just beginning to understand.

Written by Karen Glanzberg, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

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