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The meaning of discharge, and gradient in this context


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I want to know the meaning of discharge and gradient in the following context:

In the absence of sunlight,
vent chemistry supports chemolithotrophic prokaryotes that
synthesize sugars by oxidizing hydrogen sulfide and other geofuels
including hydrogen, methane, ammonia, ferrous iron, and
manganese. (This is analogous to the photosynthetic capture of
CO2 powered by electrons obtained from water and energized by
light absorption.) According to one model, the discharge of
alkaline water through
the porous chimneys of white smokers
would have created a natural pH gradient in ancient oceans that
might have served as a foundation for the origin of cells.


I think discharge means flow

gradient : gradual change not sudden change, what do you think?

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