What Are Hydrothermal Vents?
vents have been around since the planet was first formed. They are
a natural by-product of Plate Tectonics, the process that forms,
moves, and eventually consumes entire continents.
largest geological feature on Earth is one continuous mountain range
over 40,000 miles (65,000 km) long, collectively called the Mid-Ocean
Ridges. This system encircles the globe like the seam on a baseball,
and vents are formed at the points where the continental plates
are pulling apart from each other.
is forced into fissures in the ocean floor by the tremendous pressures
found about 2300 meters (7500 feet) below the surface where vents
are located. That seawater eventually finds its way into the magma
of the Earth where it is superheated and then returned to the ocean
at temperatures as high as 400o C (750o F).
black "smoke" you see is actually a cocktail of metals
and minerals drawn from deep within the earth which precipitates
out and rains down upon the seabed below when it hits the extremely
cold water at the bottom of the ocean. The gold deposited on the
chimney by the process is clearly visible in the picture above.
Marshall Hydrothermal Recovery System is the first mention in the
patent literature of any utilization of hydrothermal vents for energy,
or anything else.
goes far beyond simply recovering the staggering heat output of
the vents. It is also the world's first practical deep-ocean mining
system, and it also has the potential of becoming the most energy-efficient
water desalination system ever devised.