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Deep Sea Vent Deep Dive

Tags: prosebioseries

Recently I had a childhood memory about the first life on Earth beginning in deep sea vents. This was "known" when I was a kid, yet it seems absent or one of many ideas today. In my internal reasoning it also gets mixed up with other points about extremophile life in the vents being a model for life existing on hostile planets.

I must have pieced together this information from movies at Boston's Museum of Science, and Disney World's aquarium attraction. Then called "The Living Seas", the attraction was one of the original Epcot info-tainment attractions. Deep sea life and chemosynthesis come up in a terrifying sequence.

When vents first surfaced

The Alvin deep sea submarine was commissioned in 1964, and performed the first dive to a hydrothermal vent in 1977. The geologists on board were surprised to find life.

The 1980s was a peak time for humpback whale song and anti-whaling content (leading to the bizarre plot of Star Trek IV The Voyage Home). There was also a boom of caveman content such as Clan of the Cave Bear (noted in Screens of the Stone Age podcast). Presently there is this trend to comment on how "it's cool now" to be a comic book nerd or computer geek, in contrast to how kids were bullied for it in the 80s and 90s, but I'd like these people to include the boom of pop science in that arc (i.e. Carl Sagan hosting a 13-part TV series and becoming a household name, the revival of Star Trek).

The backers

The theory of hydrothermal origin of life gets a mention in Wikipedia articles on abiogenesis and deep sea vents, particularly for the presence of several amino acids. An "iron-sulfur world hypothesis" formed in scientific literature between 1988 and 1992. Two people who helped popularize deep sea origins were Günter Wächtershäuser, a German patent lawyer with a chemistry degree, and Thomas Gold, an astrophysicist.

So the 90s was peak deep sea vent, and in ways which was not universally accepted science.