Explorers Find Otherworldly 'Mirror Pools' in Sea

This story is part of Treehugger's news archive. Learn more about our news archiving process or read our latest news.
The 'mirror worlds,' pools of superheated fluids, were discovered on large venting mineral towers in the Gulf of California. (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute/YouTube)

Describing the experience as akin to "floating into a science fiction film," scientists have announced the discovery of a startlingly beautiful ecosystem on the sea floor of the Gulf of California.

The research team, on an expedition funded by the Schmidt Ocean Institute to explore hydrothermal and gas plumes, were awed by the presence of massive mineral towers teeming with colorful lifeforms.

"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," Dr. Mandy Joye said in a blog post. "This is an amazing natural laboratory to document incredible organisms and better understand how they survive in extremely challenging environments."

The abundance of species huddled around thermal vents more than 6,000 feet below the surface wasn't the only surprise. Using a remotely operated submersible equipped with 4K resolution cameras, the team also came across stunning "mirror pools." These fascinating phenomenon occurs when superheated fluids become trapped under volcanic flanges and form reflective pools.

Their discovery was nothing short of jaw-dropping:

Despite the remote location of this colorful world, the team noted that it unfortunately had not remained free from human impact.

"We saw copious amounts of trash including fishing nets, deflated Mylar balloons, and even a discarded Christmas trees," Joye noted. "This provided a stark juxtaposition next to the spectacular mineral structures and biodiversity."

A scale worm reflected in hydrothermal fluid
An example of one of the 'mirror worlds' discovered during the expedition in the Gulf of California. (Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute/YouTube)

The research team will spend the next several months studying samples collected from the vents to better understand the unique world thriving in such a volatile environment.

"Witnessing these remarkable oceanscapes, we are reminded that although they are out of our everyday sight, they are hardly immune from human impact," Schmidt Ocean Institute Cofounder Wendy Schmidt added. "Our hope is to inspire people to learn more and care more about our ocean."