Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Kind of Water You Might Not Recognize.

Unlike that bottle of Deer Park you take refreshing sips from, this water is a supercritical fluid- the hottest water ever found on Earth.

While scientists have managed to make both water and seawater supercritical in laboratories, the phenomena has never be observed in nature until now.

Supercritical fluids are highly compressed gases that have both gas and liquid-like properties. This combination gives them special properties that regular fluids don't have. Andrea Koschinsky of Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany along with a team of researchers discovered the unusual water just south of the Atlantic equator.

Because supercritical water is much denser that regular water, it continues to shoot rapidly out of hydrothermal vents (aptly known as black smokers), residing deep down at bottom of the Atlantic ocean.

Very little is known about how supercritical water vents operate, and the extremely hot temperatures don't help things either. Since actively drilling into the vents is currently impractical and dangerous (the massive heat would melt most of the equipment), scientists are relegated to the next best thing: computer simulations.

Supercritical water easily sucks essential minerals out of rocks and spews them into the ocean. Many scientists think the process is responsible for deep ocean floor-dwelling elements like copper, gold, and sulphur. Koschinsky speculates that up to half the manganese and one tenth of the iron found in our oceans may come from supercritical water vents.

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