The ocean floor is full of mysteries and scientists on an expedition recently stumbled upon a spectacular landscape in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
Thousands of feet below the surface are volcanic flanges that create a shimmering mirror-like optical illusion that has left the entire team of researchers in awe.
While aboard the research vessel Falkor, researchers led by Dr. Mandy Joye of the University of Georgia remotely operated a rover called ROV SuBastian, according to a report from the Schmidt Ocean Institute. With this rover, the team was able to capture stunning geological formations on the ocean floor.
Deep in the Gulf of California at a depth of about 6,500 feet or about 2,000 meters, there is a hydrothermal field featuring towering venting mineral structures rising up to 60 feet or 20 meters high.
"We discovered remarkable towers where every surface was occupied by some type of life. The vibrant colors found on the 'living rocks' was striking, and reflects a diversity in biological composition as well as mineral distributions," Joye recalls in a statement. "This is an amazing natural laboratory to document incredible organisms and better understand how they survive in extremely challenging environments."
The only drawback is that the research team found the spectacular environment littered by copious amounts of trash, such as fishing nets, Mylar balloons, and Christmas trees.
Through The Looking Glass
While the researchers were originally exploring the hydrothermal vent system to learn more about the mysterious ecosystem and to collect microbial samples, another phenomenon kept them spellbound.
As the remotely operated vehicle floated through the water, the rock overhang appeared to be a smooth and level surface reflecting the rock formations below. As the SuBastian traveled to a different angle, the illusion shifted, creating a picture of a cavernous arc of shimmering minerals.
It's an awe-inspiring optical illusion that stole the show at the Falkor.
Smithsonian Magazine explains that the water shooting out from the hydrothermal vents is very hot, reaching temperatures of about 690 degrees Fahrenheit (366 degrees Celsius). Since hot water is less dense than cold water, it rises. As this hot water travels upward, it hits collides with the flanges or rock formations.
With nowhere to go, hot water gets trapped at this level. Since the temperature difference between the cool ocean water and the trapped hot water is so massive, light slows from the cold to hot water, forming a mirror-like surface.
"Think of air versus water — light slows down in water so you can see your reflection on the surface of a lake if you look along the correct angle," Joye explains to Smithsonian. "[At a different angle], you can look through the surface beneath the water. The same thing happens here."