The Lost City Hydrothermal Vent System and Threats of Deep-Sea Mining

January 14 – May 12, 2023

McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina

Discovered in 2000, the Lost City is a network of towering marine alkaline hydrothermal vents located atop the underwater mountain, the Atlantis Massif, at the intersection of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Atlantic Transform Fault 900m below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. The stunning towers of the Lost City are constructed from carbonate material deposited from the chimneys that emit hot fluid resulting from mantle rocks mixing with sea water. This exothermic reaction called serpentinization also emits methane and hydrogen, the ingredients needed to support the site’s unique and forms of life, called polyextremophiles, simple single celled organisms that evolved under extreme environmental conditions such as extreme acidity, temperature or light conditions. Many oceanographers believe that the Lost City gave rise to the first life first on Earth and these conditions and life forms can serve as analogues to life on other planets.

Because of the uniqueness of this hydrothermal vent site, it is important that we protect it. But like many other oceanic venting systems, it is in danger from threats of deep-sea mining. The International Seabed Authority has parceled off this portion of the seafloor to Poland who owns the right to explore this area for deep sea mining, though no mining has been done yet. In 2018 a team of scientists returned to Lost City on an NSF-funded expedition led by Chief Scientists Dr. Susan Lang and Dr. William Brazelton. As an Artist at Sea, Davidson joined the month-long expedition aboard the Atlantis and created a body of artwork was created based on that experience. It is currently on display at the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina and runs until May 12, 2023.