London, August 5 : Scientists have discovered the hottest water on Earth, which is deep down at the very bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
According to a report in New Scientist, the water sits atop what could be a huge bubble of magma, at over 3 kilometers beneath the surface.
Found by geochemist Andrea Koschinsky from Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, the fluid is in a "supercritical" state that has never before been seen in nature, spewing out of two black smokers called "Two Boats" and "Sisters Peak".
Koschinsky said that it is somewhere between a gas and a liquid.
She thinks it could offer a first glimpse at how essential minerals and nutrients like gold, copper and iron are leached out of the entrails of the Earth and released into the oceans.
Liquids boil and evaporate as temperature and pressure rise. But push both factors beyond a critical point and something odd happens: the gas and liquid phase merge into one supercritical fluid.
For water, this fluid is denser than vapour, but lighter than liquid water.
Water and seawater have both been pushed past this critical point in labs, but until Koschinsky and her colleagues sailed to just south of the Atlantic equator in 2006, no one had seen supercritical fluids in nature.
Geochemists suspected that if they were to find them anywhere, they would be coming out of very deep hydrothermal vents.
In 2005, a team of scientists including Koschinsky visited 5° south, as part as a six-year project to investigate the southern end of the mid-Atlantic Ridge. There, they discovered a new set of vents, which they revisited in 2006 and 2007, lowering a thermometer into them each time.
Computer models suggested that the fluid that comes out of these black smokers initially seeps down into surrounding cracks in the seabed, gradually getting deeper and hotter as it approached the Earth's magma.
Eventually, at 407 °C and 300 bars of pressure, the water becomes supercritical.
Because supercritical water is far less dense than liquid water, it shoots up to the seabed like a bubble and it is spat out into the ocean through vents.
From their first visit in 2005, the team found temperatures in the vents were at least 407 °C, and even reached 464 °C for periods of 20 seconds.
"The findings are significant," said Dan Fornari from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) in Massachusetts. "The high temperature of the venting is especially interesting as this (mid-ocean ridge) does not spread very rapidly," he added.