Smoke-like columns of mineral-rich water rise from a hydrothermal vent—one of ten active volcanic vents recently discovered in the Gulf of California (map), the long, narrow body of water between Baja California and mainland Mexico.
The vents are the first to be found in the region despite many years of searching. Scientists had suspected active vents existed in the gulf, due to the region's volcanic activity, but until now they'd been hard to track down. (Watch video: What are hydrothermal vents?)
The new "black smokers" were found using sonar-equipped robotic submarines, which were deployed during the last leg of a three-month expedition by California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). The team has been using sonar vehicles to successfully locate new vents in the northeastern Pacific since 2006.
(Related: "Major Deep-Sea Smokers Found-'Evolution in Overdrive.'")
On the latest excursion, sonar maps of the seafloor revealed the tell-tale structures of vent chimneys, showing the team just where to send its remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).
"The way that people found hydrothermal vents in the past was by studying the water column and looking for temperature or turbidity anomalies and hoping to see something close by," said MBARI senior scientist David Clague.
"It was basically driving around in the dark and hoping you fell into it."