Monday, July 30, 2007

Glass Sponges

A reef of glass sponges, creating a deep-sea oasis 650 feet below the surface, was discovered for the first time in U.S. waters off the Washington coast.

Researchers didn't even think the oxymoronic structures -- sponges made of glass that form reefs -- even existed anymore. Captured in the fossil record, they were thought until fairly recently to have gone extinct 100 million years ago. They were supposed to have been squeezed out by the arrival of microscopic marine algae that began gobbling up the glassy silica the sponges need to build their skeletons.

The Washington reef is at least 2,000 feet long and up to 10 feet tall.

An intriguing twist on Johnson's finding was the presence of natural gas, or methane. The methane is seeping out of the ocean floor, feeding strands of bacteria. The glass sponges suck and sweep the bacteria in through their pores and eat them, jetting the extra water back out the hole at the top of their body.

"Everybody is feeding off the methane," said Johnson, who plans to submit the findings to a scientific journal. "It's a whole ecosystem that people didn't know about."
It continues to amaze me how little we know about the undersea world. Fascinating how the base of this ecosystem is methane rather than sunlight.

via Seattle PI

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