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Paved paradise

Chemosynthetic tubeworms are growing through fissures in this large asphalt surface. Other associated animals include tiny shrimp and crabs. Image Science.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Unlike the few dandelions that manage to pop through asphalt sidewalks, some ocean creatures seem to actually like asphalt.

In a new study, scientists describe natural, underwater asphalt formations and the mussels, clams, worms and variety of other ocean creatures that live on, in and around in them in the deepest parts of the Gulf of Mexico. (Check out the map to locate this paved paradise.)

Exploring scientists used underwater cameras to search for mysterious sea floor communities from their ship.

Late one night, the scientists were crammed into a small room on the ship watching live footage from the bottom of the sea. Ian MacDonald from Texas A & M University in Corpus Christi, Texas said that he and the other scientists were joking about how this was the most boring sea floor they'd ever seen.

The regional setting of the swath map (rectangle) and the location of a 1971 photograph of an asphalt pillow (arrow). Image Science.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

"And then, all of a sudden, KAPOW! A wall of asphalt suddenly appeared with tubeworms sticking out," MacDonald exclaimed.

The scientists had found a hill of salt that was smothered in asphalt and teeming with life.

In, on and around the asphalt, MacDonald and colleagues found many animals that grab the energy they need to make their food from chemical bonds. In contrast, plants make their food from energy from the sun.

Scientists need to do more research to understand what it is about the asphalt that attracts and supports so many animals. Nearby sea floor areas without the asphalt do not support much animal life at all.


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