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. fredo

    these vents must be false, because they are not in the bible.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Mark

    This is an awesome natural wonder!!!

    I have never seen so many WACK JOB comments! Do these people even swim, let alone read?

    April 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Charlie

    Amazing how every new thing they find could be how "we" were created. Shows how confident they are on their other theories. I'll just stick with the real one.....

    April 12, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. matt

    James-
    There are certainly many other vents. But, they've been around for a really long time (more than thousands of years- they're similar to the geysers at Yellowstone Park). The polar ice has only really started melting quickly in the past couple of decades. So there has to be something besides hydrothermal vents that is changing our climate.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cathy

    These vents have likely been around as long as there have been volcanoes so they obviously have nothing to do with global warming and even less to do with Gore. For just once, keep your anti liberal politics out of a good scientific discussion. We have known about these vents since the 70s, it is just that this one is deeper than usual.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. GeoPerson

    Why must global warming be brought into this? Sure volcanic activity releases heat into the earth system, but it is already knows that the amount of heat escaping the earth is on mush smaller magnetude that that comming in from the sun daily. Black smokers aren't new news, its just special that they found them here (at the deepest known location).

    Either way it is interesting though, I hope they find a few new interesting species of animal down there. Deep ocean creatures are so interesting to look at.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tony Munster

    Great Find.
    I have an idea for using the ocean to produce power but it has noting to do with this.
    What happens to the water at most dams across NA.
    Water is forced into a small area by gravity and that pushes the turbines.
    Why can't the gulf stream of the coast of Florida be used in the same way.
    It is a constant source of powerful moving water.
    The big problem would be not to slow it down and effect the polar circulation.
    Big ideas need people who are educated and can take this idea to better all people.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. reality

    "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."

    At those pressures and in seawater, a pipeline would be very unfeasible. The pipe would have to withstand incredible external pressure, the gases coming out of the vent are most likely very corrosive (and so is the sea water), and maintenance at that depth would be way too expensive. If using these vents were even feasible, I would find one that is in much shallower water.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. desert voice

    I find it to be unthinkable to plug a volcano. It is better to use the Chinese 36 inch steel pipes to bring this evergy to the surface. I would prefer a U.S.- made pipe, but it may be too expensive at today's prices. In the 60's, I have participated in the construction of a 2,000 kilometer natural gas pipeine in Argentina, from Pico Truncado to Buenos Aires. It was done relatively unexpensively in three years. It is easier to drjust drop pipes into the water. They would need to be coated to prevent heat from escaping.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Harvey

    Guys, even if it is 750 degrees hot it can't melt polar caps.... the heat won't even make it to the top!!! Abe- How the hell would you nuke a vent?? thats basically nuking a volcano??

    April 12, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rusty

    Recently discovered, scientific evidence, that will soon be released, has proof that the deep water, black smokers are from UFOs that landed in the ocean thousands of years ago. They utilize a special metal, (probably unobtainium) that, when exposed to excessive water presssure such as that from being submerged 3 miles below the oceans surface, produces an uninteruptable electrical supply used to power life support systems on the alien spacecraft. They've obviously been heavily sedated so their metabolism is drastically slowed down, kinda like they're commatose, but not really.

    It's only a matter of time before the aliens awake and take over the countries of the world. That's why they've been located in an ocean near you, and everyone else.These so called black smokers are also used to transmit data to/from the aliens mother ship and relayed back to thier planet. When, at the appropriate time, the command signal will be given, and all hell will break loose.

    All of the earhquakes we've been experiencing lately, especially the ones responsable for tsunamis, are the direct result from all of these spacecraft edging ever closer to the surface of the ocean floor. They're quite large, as they'd be required to house so many individuals to accomplish their goal.

    ......orrrr it could really just be what the real scientists are saying, you know, tectonic plate movement, hot lava, magma spewing out near the earths surface, cool, never before seen undersea life forms that live off of a diet of heavy metals, CO2 and all.

    But, just to be safe, I'm still gonna wear my aluminum foil helmit so the aliens can't read my thoughts!
    Enjoy,
    RustyFuryIII

    April 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Cyg

    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.

    I can assure you – Al and the rest of us knew about this well before you did. Keep grasping at reasons not to believe, k?

    April 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. AJ

    Exxon says that 15 billion tons of pollution into the air per day can't possible effect the environment.
    I'm a conservative, I know corporations always have the publics best interest at hand.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mark

    The opening paragraph reads..

    "The waters near the vent are so hot they could yield clues to how life started on Earth..."

    No need to look 3.1 miles deep in the ocean. Just read the first chapter of Genesis. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth". Emphasis on the part, God created...

    April 12, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Glynn

    It never ceases to amaze me how scientists are so quick to claim hope for finding the secret to how life began every time some new discovery is made. If they see a spot on a distant planet, the question is raised: Did life begin on Jupiter? Or when someone sees microscopic debris embedded in piece of space rock and the question is raised: Could this be a fossilized microorganism from Mars that somehow survived an asteroid impact on red planet and then survived the space travel to Earth and the scorching hot entry into Earth's atmosphere only to land in a soupy bog somewhere, then maybe, just maybe life on Earth began - from an organism that originated on Mars - so then, life on Earth maybe began on Mars. Or, now there's a hot tub at the bottom of the ocean that boils water to super hot temperatures under incredible pressure - and yet, maybe that's where life began. Oh my, what a discovery. The scientific world is so hell bent (pun intended) on trying to prove that God didn't create life. It's funny, if not sad.

    April 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
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