Hydrothermal Vent Plumes and the ICT Ecosystem

Hydrothermal vents do not normally erupt in isolation but form a hydrothermal vent field along a ridge (Baker and German 2004). There will subsequently be several vent chimneys consisting of both black and white smokers (as mentioned earlier). For the purpose of simplicity, this section of the chapter has confined the scope of the ecosystem analysis to one core ICT black smoker. Black smokers take their colouring from the rich minerals that are discharged at high temperature from the magma below (Baross and Deming 1983). The black plumes rise vertically and then move horizontally before precipitating (depositing) rich mineral and sulphur on the basalt/seafloor below (Tivey et al. 1995). However, white smoker chimneys do not discharge fluids that are hot enough to carry high enough concentrations of metals and sulphide to produce black smoke when mixing with ambient seawater. ‘White smoker’ chimneys will form where temperatures are only intermediate (100c - 300c). If the fluids are hot at depth - they may have been cooled or mixed with ambient sea water below the surface, and therefore, they will have deposited their metals at depth (Tivey et al. 1995). These chimneys are, therefore, classed as being low innovation whereas the ‘black smokers’ represent high innovation. The ‘black smokers’ are therefore more efficient (than ‘white smokers’) in processing the relevant components (data and ideas). This means that the ecosystem environment around the white smoker is less productive due to lower sulphur and mineral levels. This is referred to as the ‘Peripheral Ecosystem’ in Fig. 5.2. Sulphide bearing minerals and nutrients are much richer in the centre of the ecosystem close to the vent chimneys (in the core and extended ecosystem).

By using the ICT analogy, white smoker communities, therefore, represent low innovation communities compared to black smoker communities that produce high levels of innovation. Where traditional industries and brick and mortar firms have come under threat from new competitors in non-adjacent industries, they have had to develop the flexibility of mussels (that can operate in both low and high sulphur environments) in order to occupy new habitats. However, many of these firms have responded in a predatory manner (Micheli et al. 2002) adopting the strategies of first and second order carnivores (see Table 5.2). The industries concerned would include music, publishing, advertising and newspapers etc. The major record companies acted like the ‘Dandelion’ Siphonophores (jellyfish) following the arrival of Napster - and file sharing technologies - by suing individuals for breach of copyright. Record companies also chose to build scale in response to the Internet threat through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) moving from an industry oligopoly of 5 to 3 firms. This behaviour is similar to the Blind Brachyuran Crab which is a fierce predator that eats everything including its own species (Tunnicliffe and Jensen 1987). By remaining in a low innovation environment and not forming symbiotic relationships with organisms and data within the main ecosystem, many of these companies have now suffered disintermediation by becoming isolated on the periphery of the main black smoker ecosystem (the ‘Peripheral Ecosystem’ Fig. 5.2).

As mentioned earlier, when hydrothermal fluids exit vent chimneys at high temperatures, they form black plumes that rise vertically upwards before spreading laterally and are carried away by deep ocean currents (see Fig. 5.5).

Hydrothermal plumes and the creation of an effluent layer (mineral-rich bacterial waste) by means of precipitation (Van Dover 2000)

Fig. 5.5 Hydrothermal plumes and the creation of an effluent layer (mineral-rich bacterial waste) by means of precipitation (Van Dover 2000)

The plumes are crucial because they deposit hydrothermally derived minerals and bacteria within the immediate vicinity of the hydrothermal vent chimney (predominantly on the microbial mats) and over the surrounding area, which is populated by tubeworms, clams and mussels (see Fig. 5.2).

At a highly active vent site, where adjacent ‘black smokers’ occur close to one another (within tens of metres), their fluid will become entrained (or converge) in a single plume (see Fig. 5.6).

At the East Pacific Rise site, between 7 and 14 degrees north, for example, there are at least 198 vent sites in multiple vent fields which make up several vent sectors. The average distance between the sites is 4 kilometres, but within some sectors, the average distance is as little as 500 metres (Baker and Urabe 1996). The content of multiple, converging black smokers rains down as precipitation to form a single effluent layer (mineral-rich bacterial waste) that can extend for tens to thousands of kilometres (see Fig. 5.5). Typically, plumes rise some 150-200 metres (Lupton et al. 1985), depending on prevailing currents and the characteristics ofthe fluids vented, such as the ratio of brine-to-vapour (Edmonds and Edmond 1995). Established and healthy ecosystems also have stable plumes.

Multiple black smokers converging to form a single effluent layer (Adapted from Van Dover

Fig. 5.6 Multiple black smokers converging to form a single effluent layer (Adapted from Van Dover: 2000)

The hydrothermal sites or sulphide mounds scattered along a midocean ridge can also be viewed as technology clusters (i.e. Silicon Valley and Route 128) or firm clusters (telecoms, software, hardware, Internet) within the ICT ecosystem (Porter 1998).

Where large plumes exist, the lateral dispersal of minerals, bacteria and micro-organisms can occur over a very wide geographical area of up to several hundred kilometres. Ambient light conditions also exist at black smokers, associated with high-temperature fluids exiting the orifices and mixing with sea water. The sea-life around the black smokers is also unique, and these are colonised by vent shrimp (Corbari et al. 2008) capable of withstanding temperatures up to 350 degrees centigrade. The shrimp are also equipped with photoreceptors that enable them to navigate paths around the black smokers (Van Dover 2000)

The hydrothermal vent system, therefore, represents an analogical model of the ICT ecosystem. The content of the plumes, the minerals, microorganisms and bacteria, represent data and the process of precipitation mimics the dissemination and transfer of data within the ecosystem (Feely et al. 1994). This ‘data’ (mineral-rich bacteria) precipitating close to the base of the hydrothermal chimney is processed by organisms including the tubeworms, clams and mussels.

As discussed earlier, these organisms occupy fissures in the seabed and on the bacterial mats, and these are the ICT equivalent to Internet firms, cable and telecoms networks. However, the data that does not precipitate immediately, but remains suspended indefinitely in the lateral plumes represents data that is transferred in the ICT system by ‘over-the-top’ technologies such as orbital and atmospheric satellites, radio waves, cloud computing, satellite TV, mobile communications and ‘streaming’.

The vent shrimp which navigate the plumes using their photoreceptors (Komai and Segonzac 2008), represent the orbital and atmospheric satellites that are able to navigate and organise overhead data (Inmarsat, Eutelsat and SES). Moreover, by classifying each vent site and their black smokers as industry/technology clusters (Porter 1998), the merging outputs between clusters is comparable to the convergence of industries in sectors such as smartphones and media. In the case of smartphones, data from a range of ecosystems (adjacent black smokers) include computing, consumer electronics, media content and telecommunications merge into one. Data convergence through products such as quad play is another example in the telecoms sector (Mitomo et al. 2015).

The plume analogy is reinforced further when one considers the phenomenon of the megaplume. Megaplumes are associated with large scale, episodic releases of hydrothermally altered seawater due to volcanic eruptions on the seafloor (Baker et al. 1987). These plumes rise to heights of more than 800 metres above the sea floor. These megaplume events are characterised by their large size (up to 20 kilometres or more in diameter and 600 metres thick). On the Juan de Fuca Ridge, two megaplumes reaching heights of between 1,900 - 2,200 metres and 1,500 - 2,000 metres were observed by Lupton et al. (1985). Meanwhile, on the East Pacific Rise, Baker and Urabe (1996) carried out a survey, where they observed hydrothermal activity that was higher than anywhere else on the planet, with hydrothermal plumes covering 60 percent of the survey area with one region supporting an uninterrupted 150-kilometer diameter plume.

When megaplumes occur due to volcanic eruptions, not only do water columns sometimes rise as high as 1,000 meters but these megaplumes also provide a vehicle for episodic and large-scale dispersal of vent larvae. This equates to the scale of ‘big bang’ innovation in ICT ecosystems, where an explosion of new product concepts and ideas occurs. The vertical transport of larvae also takes place in plumes. According to Lupton et al. (1985), the potential for the entrainment (the drawing in and transportation by fluid) of larvae and vertical transport was significant. The vertical transport also enhanced the long-distance dispersal capacity and resulted in the mixing of larvae. From an innovation perspective, this means more open source ideas (Chesbrough 2003) resulting in a more robust innovation capability and greater data convergence.

The megaplume phenomenon can be likened to today’s data deluge, one likely to increase exponentially as such innovations as the Internet of Things and ‘Big Data’ continue to gather pace (Kitchin 2014). The constant stream of Internet-related innovation causing this volcanic activity - or information explosion - is having radical side-effects, too, in terms of the volume of data being generated and transmitted.

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