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Rocks that grow

The pillar in this photograph looks like a petrified tree trunk, but it is actually a rock chimney created by a deep-sea hydrothermal vent about 2,200 meters below the sea surface, off the coast of Oregon. Such vents release scalding water and minerals from within the Earth's crust into the surrounding seawater, which is just a degree or two above freezing. As the water cools, the minerals precipitate out, forming rock chimneys such as this one. The top of this particular chimney broke off, leaving a flat surface where researchers placed an instrument to study the chemistry of the vent fluids and the microbes that live in and around the vent. The instrument was left in this spot for about a year, while minerals precipitated on and around it.

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