The fragile pillars you’ll see in this video may look strong, but they’re really a loose collection of minerals that build up gradually as the ultra-hot vent fluids venting out of the seafloor reacted with cold seawater. As they grow, they provide a home for microbes, which live both on the surface of the pillars and in tiny spaces inside their walls. In order to study these organisms and understand how they colonize the vents, scientists carefully break off chunks of the chimneys and bring them to the surface. It’s not easy—as you’ll see, when Jason pilots try to grab the structures with the ROV’s robotic “hands,” the pillars seem to explode into the water. As Jason Expedition Leader Tito Collasius puts it, “It’s like trying to grab a handful of sand with three fingers.” Here, you can get a sense of just how hard it is to get a good sample. Watch two unsuccessful attempts, followed by one that went perfectly.
Watch Jason deploy a sampler, called a “colonizer,” on the sea floor. View video »