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. Jeefuz

    Its Incredible how we claim to own tis world but know nothing about it. wehave been living here for hundreds of thousands of years, and yet less than 3% of the worlds oceans have been explored. Makes you wonders what can be down there, and questin our reaches... We cant reach the bottom of our oceans, and yet we are traveling to other "worlds..."

    April 12, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. r.y.s

    They could at least say how deep these vents are.

    April 12, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reb

      They did, 3 miles deep.

      June 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LividEmerald

    It's amazing that finds like this continue to be made. This is the sort of news I like to read here at CNN. Bravo!

    April 12, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. james

    But no one would admit this could be causing ocean warming. The first paragraph
    says this is "SO HOT they could yield clues as to how life started" How about passing this on to Al Gore and maybe people will wake up and realize there may be a bigger
    (divine) picture. How many other vents are there? Hey, maybe it's the HOT water that's melting the polar ice.

    April 12, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • kerry

      wow. ... just wow

      September 3, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. desert voice

    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. Furthermore, could not this heat be harvested through a pipe, for electricity? A floating power plant might perhaps be built right on top. I leave it to the scientists.

    April 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dave

    These vents should be plugged to prevent global warming.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Guest

    My thoughts exactly!

    April 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rocky

    Dave, are you wearing a helmet?

    April 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jessica

    Amazing. I would love to see more.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. J.F.

    They're NEVER going to find "clues to the beginning of life" because GOD created ALL life. We did NOT come from a pile of goo, or monkeys, or outer space. It's too bad these people will have to wait until Judgment Day to actually discover the truth they desperately don't want to believe now.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Pearlman

    Thia looks very interesting for you.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JR

    "They could at least say how deep these vents are.

    Posted by: r.y.s"

    "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.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. futbol Czarina

    r.y.s.,
    They mentioned it being 3.1 miles undersea. How completely amazing!
    This is refreshing news from CNN.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rocky

    Dave, why not just add that they are probably full of "gargyles and pslychics"?

    Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases trapping heat radiated from the earth in the atmosphere. These vents are a natural occurrence and have been in our oceans for a very long time. If you notice the article speaks of shrimp being found under arctic ice that are able to live because of the vents there. The heat dissipates before reaching the ice to melt it, therefore I don't think it is possible that these vents are warming the planet to dangerous levels and require "plugging".

    April 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Only part of global warming is explained by green house gases.

      Jupiter and Mars atmospheres are thought to be warming.

      It is believed the SUN is causing part of global warming. However, the promoters of this point are consistently ignored.

      July 15, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Drew

    There is no better example of the inequality prevalent in America's education system than first reading this article; and then reading the comments.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      Not only the inequality of education, but how shallow the gene pool is getting...

      June 25, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
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