Hot springs

A hot spring, hydrothermal spring, or geothermal spring is a spring produced by the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater onto the surface of the Earth. The groundwater is heated either by shallow bodies of magma (molten rock) or by circulation through faults to hot rock deep in the Earth's crust. In either case, the ultimate source of the heat is radioactive decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements in the Earth's mantle, the layer beneath the crust.

Hot spring water often contains large amounts of dissolved minerals. The chemistry of hot springs ranges from acid sulfate springs with a pH as low as 0.8, to alkaline chloride springs saturated with silica, to bicarbonate springs saturated with carbon dioxide and carbonate minerals. Some springs also contain abundant dissolved iron. The minerals brought to the surface in hot springs often feed communities of extremophiles, microorganisms adopted to extreme conditions, and it is possible that life on Earth had its origin in hot springs.

Hot spring ecosystems

Hot springs often host communities of microorganisms adapted to life in hot, mineral-laden water. These include thermophiles, which are a type of extremophile that thrives at high temperatures, between 45 and 80 °C (113 and 176 °F). Further from the vent, where the water has had time to cool and precipitate part of its mineral load, conditions favor organisms adapted to less extreme conditions. This produces a succession of microbial communities as one moves away from the vent, which in some respects resembles the successive stages in the evolution of early life.

For example, in a bicarbonate hot spring, the community of organisms immediately around the vent is dominated by filamentous thermophilic bacteria, such as Aquifex and other Aquificales, that oxidize sulfide and hydrogen to obtain energy for their life processes. Further from the vent, where water temperatures have dropped below 60 °C (140 °F), the surface is covered with microbial mats 1 centimetre (0.39 in) thick that are dominated by cyanobacteria, such as Spirulina, Oscillatoria, and Synechococcus, and green sulfur bacteria such as Chloroflexus. These organisms are all capable of photosynthesis, though green sulfur bacteria produce sulfur rather than oxygen during photosynthesis. Still further from the vent, where temperatures drop below 45 °C (113 °F), conditions are favorable for a complex community of microorganisms that includes Spirulina, Calothrix, diatoms and other single-celled eukaryotes, and grazing insects and protozoans. As temperatures drop close to those of the surroundings, higher plants appear.

Alkali chloride hot springs show a similar succession of communities of organisms, with various thermophilic bacteria and archaea in the hottest parts of the vent. Acid sulfate hot springs show a somewhat different succession of microorganisms, dominated by acid-tolerant algae (such as members of Cyanidiophyceae), fungi, and diatoms.[32] Iron-rich hot springs contain communities of photosynthetic organisms that oxidize reduced (ferrous) iron to oxidized (ferric) iron.

Hot springs are a dependable source of water that provides a rich chemical environment. This includes reduced chemical species that microorganisms can oxidize as a source of energy. In contrast with "black smokers" (hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor), hot springs produce fluids at less extreme temperatures, and they experience cycles of wetting and drying that promote formation of simple organic molecules. For these reasons, it has been hypothesized that hot springs may be the place of origin of life on Earth.


Source: Wikipedia contributors. "Hot spring." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Jun. 2021. Web. 28 Jun. 2021.

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