April 12th, 2010
02:07 PM ET

Scientists find world's deepest known undersea volcanic vent

Smokey water billows out of metal ore at a volcanic vent located in the Cayman Trough.

A group of scientists exploring the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean said they have found the deepest known undersea volcanic vent. The waters near the vent are so hot they could yield clues to how life started on Earth and could contain never-seen-before marine life, scientists say.

"A tremendous roar went up in the main lab as a beautiful cluster of black smokers came into camera view," the crew of the RRS James Cook wrote in their online diary of the exploration found 3.1 miles undersea. "It was an amazing feeling to know that in a world with more than six billion people, we were seeing part of our planet that no-one had ever seen before."

YouTube: Watch the underwater vehicle film the discovery

The "Black Smokers," known as superheated volcanic vents often lead to "lush colonies of deep-sea creatures"  because of the scalding water and drastically different climate, according to the National Oceanographic Centre. Volcanic vents are cracks in the earth's crust that allow magma, gas, smoke and other material to escape the surface. Temperatures in these areas can reach 750 degrees Fahrenheit and heat the sea water to extreme temperatures before spewing it back into the ocean where it creates what appear to be smoke eruptions.

"The pressure three miles deep at the bottom of the Trough - 500 times normal atmospheric pressure - is equivalent to the weight of a large family car pushing down on every square inch of the creatures that live there," the NOC said.

The discovery of similar vents "has forced scientists to rewrite the rules of biology" in the past, the NOC said, and with the these superheated vents found at even larger depths, there could likely be more discoveries to come - especially since the Cayman Trough is the world's deepest undersea volcanic rift.

The crew of the RRS James hopes to explore further to identify any new sea creatures because those that can survive in extreme, unlikely places, could give clues to the beginning of life. They could also provide insight into whether other organisms, marine life, or other creatures may exist in similar climates - both on the Earth and other planets.

Follow the crew's journey through their diary

Scientists are fascinated by deep-sea vents because the scalding water that gushes from them nourishes lush colonies of deep-sea creatures, which has forced scientists to rewrite the rules of biology.

"We hope our discovery will yield new insights into biogeochemically important elements in one of the most extreme naturally occurring environments on our planet," says geochemist Doug Connelly of the NOC, who is the Principal Scientist of the expedition.

The discovery echoes the sentiment of NASA scientists, who weeks ago, found a shrimp-like creature 600 feet below Arctic Ice. Scientists said they had hoped the discovery of the create in extremely cold conditions could hold keys to life on some of the frozen moons in outer space.

The same hope now follows this discovery - which if nothing else was a magical moment for the scientists and crew.

"It was like wandering across the surface of another world," Geologist Bramley Murton of the National Oceanographic Centre, who piloted the HyBIS underwater vehicle, said. "The rainbow hues of the mineral spires and the fluorescent blues of the microbial mats covering them were like nothing I had ever seen before."

For a full story exploring what the discovery means check CNN.com on Tuesday.

soundoff (155 Responses)
  1. thrash

    yeah like back in the dust age when they hard to get all the cars off the roads and of corse the ice age when they ban microwaves...its all our fault...we caused it all.
    As long as this planet has existed theres been global warming ...and oh not to mention global cooling...or does that not exist now...?...humans are only a part of the equation...this plant has being doing as it pleases for millions of years...human cant and wont change that....oh maybe it we all stand on one side it will shoot of its axis and end up by mars where its nice and warm...then you really can blame us. 🙂

    April 14, 2010 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. adalwolf

    How do you know this is the way life started and how did you scientist even get down their near the core? do you guys have the technology now to go near the core??? 3.1 miles below sea thats near the core I wonder if this has just been created???

    April 14, 2010 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  3. DSV 3

    @ Adalwolf – They aren't going anywhere near the core of the earth. This discovery took place on the ocean floor, which happened to be in the Cayman Trough. They used a remotely piloted research sub. This stuff happens all the time, and is certainly Not fictitious.

    April 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tromboneplaya

    hey i did this article for school but i loved the comments the aricle was ok but the comments were funny

    April 14, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Le vente

    This has to be near Puerto Rico Because we are HOTTTTTT

    April 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Egghead

    I think that what they meant by origins of life is that the microorganisms around these vents often do not use oxygen and are completely independent of the sun as a source of energy. Because it is suspected, based on experimentation and observation, that oxygen only became abundant after life began, as a byproduct of photosynthesis and other metabolic activities, it is under these conditions that life may have begun. It was only much later that metabolisms based on oxygen and energy fron the sun evolved.
    This may just be my PH.D. talking and all the science books and articles I had to read. Maybe I should have just read one book (actually just one part of one book), and accepted the truth, so much easier than questioning everything. I guess ignorance truly is bliss.

    April 15, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  7. yeah mon

    Here in south florida we are way more HOTTER THAN PUERTO RICO

    April 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. yeah mon

    everyone thinks that these vents are clues to how we were made but its not true what happened was an alien was in his flying saucer flying around and all of a suddon his engine so he made a crash landing with him and his family then his daughter mated with god and made jesus then jesus mated with her mom then the cycle went on and on untill today and its still going on onmars right at this very moment

    April 15, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. karma

    No wonder this country is in trouble. These post cant be for real. Talk about blowing things all out of proportion. We are talking about volcanic vents right?

    April 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. john1001

    i feel so honored 2 b in the same chat room as such smart people nd i think that the vents shouldn't b plugged up (just my opinoin i dnt know nything about this stuff)

    April 17, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dude

    "Fictitious" movie:

    Rick #122: "Wonder how long it will be before someone makes a fictitious movie from this? Would be good for the imagination.Look people, this is just part of GODS works,that's all,don't kill your brains tryinig to make something else out of it."

    Rick, for your interest:
    If you have seen any of Cameron's movies (Terminator, Titanic, Avatar...) then you might have also not missed "Aliens of the Deep" directed by him, released 2005. It is about Deep-Sea volcanic vents like these, and their exploration. it is actually a documentary, not fiction, and a long-sought dream of his to make a movie like it. It is in 3D. You might find it interesting. It might make you not think that god created airbags in your cars (unless she is maybe German?). No seriously 🙂 you might like it

    April 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bored Out Of My Mind

    This is probably one of the first few discoveries in a long chain of events, so this is pretty big.

    April 18, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ned

    I left this page open for several weeks to repeatedly enjoy the impressive trolling by Dave and r.y.s.

    And sooo many people get out their smarts and typed over and over why the comments were wrong. I want you all to remember the guy in grade school that tried to tell you that gullible wasn't in the dictionary, and read future posts with that in mind.

    May 12, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. godsend74

    A tremendous roar went up in the main lab as a beautiful cluster of black smokers came into camera view," the crew of the RRS James Cook wrote in their online diary of the exploration found 3.1 miles undersea.

    "It was like wandering across the surface of another world," Geologist Bramley Murton of the National Oceanographic Centre, who piloted the HyBIS underwater vehicle, said. "The rainbow hues of the mineral spires and the fluorescent blues of the microbial mats covering them were like nothing I had ever seen before."

    I just hope that the scientists take samples of what is coming out from that crater. There might well be deposits or rare earth minerals waiting for China to be picked up before we even think about it.

    Geochem, The "smoke" referred to in the article is not like the smoke released from a fire on the surface of the earth. Surface fire smoke is composed of partially combusted organic (carbon) materials among other substances. "Black Smoker" plumes are also not like the plumes of gas seen exiting the surface vents (rock fractures) around volcanoes "at the earth's surface..................They have existed before, after and during all the previous ice ages and "non-ice ages". Undersea volcanic vents like these have existed for hundreds of millions of years (BTW – and are the source of some of the largest lead-zinc and gold deposits in the world (known as "massive sulfide" deposits)."

    Any elements or molecules (several elements bonded [connected] together) that could appear in a gaseous form if released at the surface of the earth, would (at the bottom of the ocean) be incorporated into the solid particles of metals (gold, copper, silver, lead, manganese, iron, etc) and "regular rock" minerals and fragments that form the "smoke" seen coming out

    The vents help keep it calm. Think of a shaken pop bottle. You can't just open the bottle right away or it erupts. You have to open the cap slowly to prevent making a mess.

    Black Smokers Anyone ...Feel a Golden Cigar coming on. massive sulphide deposits – Generalized genetic model, Volcanic-hosted deposits, Sediment-hosted deposits, Fig. 1., Black smokers http://science.jrank.org/pages/47840/massive-sulphide-deposits.html#ixzz0sHQl9F4pmassive sulphide deposits – Generalized genetic model, Volcanic-hosted deposits, Sediment-hosted depscience.jrank.orgMassive sulphides are rocks made up primarily of sulphide minerals. There is no accepted definition of the term ‘massive sulphide’, but it is most commonly used in describing strata-bound (and often stratiform) deposits in sedimentary or volcanic settings formed from the flow of heated fluids (usual...http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/04/12/scientists-find-worlds-deepest-known-undersea-volcanic-vent/?hpt=C2
    Scientists find world's deepest known undersea volcanic vent
    news.blogs.cnn.com
    A group of scientists exploring the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean said they have found the deepest known undersea volcanic vent. The waters near the vent are so hot they could yield clues to how life started on Earth and could contain never-seen-before marine life, scientists say.

    July 3, 2010 at 3:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. pockets

    I wonder what the religious nutbars of the planet will think of this statement " A group of scientists exploring the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean said they have found the deepest known undersea volcanic vent. The waters near the vent are so hot they could yield clues to how life started on Earth and could contain never-seen-before marine life, scientists say" Note "to how life started on EARTH. Hello, not in 7days but over billions of years my fellow primates.

    July 15, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
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