The hydrothermal vent fields in La Paz BC


Carla Padilla / El VigÍa

Ronald Spells Madero, Research Professor in the University of California’s School of Marine Sciences, participated as principal investigator in the first three stages of a 33-day expedition aimed at studying hydrothermal vent fields located in the Pescadero Basin, off the coast of La Paz, Baja California Sur.

He explained that the origin of these fields, located at depths of up to 3800 meters below sea level, is related to the formation of the Gulf of California. He noted that it revolves around expedition FK210922 aboard the oceanic ship R/V Falkor, operated by the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) in the United States.

The study area lies directly on the boundary between two large tectonic plates called the Pacific and North American tectonic plates, respectively, whose relative motion over the past 12 million years has separated the Baja California Peninsula from the continental massif.

Primarily in this geological environment, as a result of the process of thinning of the earth’s crust, many cracks and fissures are produced through which sea water seeps; As it passes through the crust, the water interacts with the surrounding rock as it is heated by magma processes until it reaches temperatures of 360°C.

Eventually, after a period that can range from a few thousand to several thousand years, the superheated water returns to the surface through hydrothermal vents or vents, which is increased due to the deposition of various minerals that crystallize from the sudden cooling of hydrothermal fluids with water from the sea floor at a temperature of 2°C.

Discovered in the seventies

He explained that the first hydrothermal vents and vents were discovered and studied since the seventies, a time when they were considered inhospitable areas due to the harsh conditions of pressure and temperature in which they are formed, however, it is known today that it is an oasis of life in a largely deserted area.

Spelz Madero added that there are organisms ranging from extremely cold microscopic bacteria to some invertebrates that evolve through complex processes, including symbiosis and the synthesis of nutrients through chemical reactions (chemosynthesis).

It was inconceivable, he said, to envision a healthy, self-sufficient ecosystem more than two vertical kilometers below the sea’s surface, where sunlight does not reach and the biochemical processes regulating life on the surface become obsolete.


The researcher pointed out that the expedition was divided into three phases, which were carried out during the months of October and November of this year; The first stage focused on mapping and tectonics of sites of interest; the second consisted of obtaining geophysical data, in particular the measurement of thermal conductivity and heat flow; The third focused on studying the organisms and microorganisms that colonize hydrothermal vents.

During the voyage, a multidisciplinary team of Mexican and American scientists discovered new hydrothermal vents and six possible new species of animals; An underwater ROV SuBastian has been used to explore and sample vents that emit fluids at temperatures of up to 287°C, capturing stunning images of the sea floor, including pools of hydrothermal mirrors, calcite needles and iridescent blue worms. 


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