Like floating through a science fiction film.
Thanks to some enterprising underwater explorers, I am now a firm believer that the sea floor contains portals to a Stranger Things-esque Upside Down.
A team of researchers from the Schmidt Ocean Institute have been spending their days exploring the depths of the Gulf of California as part of the "Microbial Mysteries" expedition. Over the past month, the team has been sampling the area, snapping video from about 1.2 miles (approx. 2,000 meters) below the surface. In that time they've gathered data to detail the microbial communities and metabolism of the deep and gain a better understanding of how microbes live around hydrothermal vents and cold seeps.
In the alien, extreme environment of the deep, it's remarkable to see life thriving and using the nutrient-rich vents and seeps to keep themselves alive. But it was another geological formation, caused by an underwater volcano, that offered the biggest surprise.
Using the Institute's research vessel "Falkor" and their remotely piloted robotic explorer "ROV SuBastian", researchers were able to discover new geological formations with "mirror-like flanges" -- areas where fluid from hydrothermal vents collected in topsy-turvy pools. When chief scientist Mandy Joye spotted one of the unusual pools her jaw literally dropped.
You can see a ton of amazing footage from the expedition, in 4K, below:
It's not all good news for the ocean floor though.
"Unfortunately, even in these remote and beautiful environments we saw copious amounts of trash including fishing nets, deflated Mylar balloons, and even a discarded Christmas trees," said Joye in a press release. "This provided a stark juxtaposition next to the spectacular mineral structures and biodiversity."
In some of the "highlights" garbage is scattered about the rocks and muddy soil. At one point in the video, the smiling face of Olaf, the snowman in Disney's animated film Frozen, smiles back at the underwater camera. We have found plastic pollutes even the deepest point of the world's oceans, so that's not all that surprising -- but it does cast a solemn pall over the Ocean Institute's discoveries.