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. Antietam

    This study is irrelevant to real life on the assembly line. Taxpayers are ripped off for billions of dollars so that these scientists can play games. A shrimp in the antarctic? How much did that cost us? An underwater volcano? Who will foot the bill? Does it make any difference to a cement finisher with six children that water may exist on Mars? I should like to see NASA and these other game players shut down, and funnel the money to improving medical care at Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

    April 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. thrash

    lets turn off all the micro waves and save the plant...if you have one...some very simple ready available scientificly proven research will show you just how much heat and toxins these vents contribute to the ocean and eventualy the atmosphere. More or less of these vents would have some affect on temperature and toxin levels as proven science states. To discount them in the science of globel warming is true ingorance.
    Nature playes the biggest part...it always has.

    April 12, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stanis Konabe

    I think let us not confuse religion with science. Science is about doing observation, experimenting, getting results, analysing your evidenve and proving or disproving your hypothesis. Science deals with facts and evidence that supports or proves a theory. Religion is about God and the Bible in itself is the hardest mind-boggling literature man-kind cannot really explain. But Bible simply tells us simply about God the designer of this design and master piece that the world is now reading about.

    Our human brain has limits and God in his own way opens up the limit of our brain day by day into seeing what we did not see, hear, smell and dreamed of. Let Science be scientifically argued and religion also be argued separately. They are two differnt fields but they all talk about one think-"creation".

    Let us not think too hard about climate change, hydrothermal vents, etc... The real answer lies with God... and to what little answers the Good Lord has provided through our scientist let us accept these facts, opinions and answers.... It makes our lives meaningful each day and leaves our mouth open. What a boring life it will be for all of us without science and religion-thank God for creating science.

    April 12, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Glynn

    Robert, I appreciate your point, but can you cite a single scientist who has publicly stated that he/she or anyone else in the scientific community is trying to figure out how God made anything?

    April 12, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. solowd

    The nice thing about science is that they aren't "hell-bent" to prove anything. If it is somehow scientifically proven that god created the universe, science will accept that. Science doesn't have an agenda.

    Specific scientists might, but they shouldn't be seen as representative of science as a whole.

    April 12, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Vansmack

    I'm with you Drew, can I hide in your cubicle with you, these people scare me. 99.9% of the people leaving comments failed Sarcasm 101.

    Great posts James and Dave, and of course you too Drew.

    April 12, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. The Doov

    Creatures living in these extreme conditions add to the proof that organisms can live on other planets with similar extreme environments. This is no lie Headroom person, And as for this god thing, come on, i mean, seriously... humans have been conditioned to believe this for far too long its getting annoying but amusing that I am still reading about this.

    April 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Scott

    The idea that life originated at vents like these is not new- it's decades old. Continuing research is showing this to more and more likely be the type of environment where it began. Scientists have not been bouncing from this idea to that. Sometimes poorly written popular science articles can make it seem that way, but I promise it's not the case...

    Really, people, if you've never worked to learn about a topic, why do you think you know more than the experts? They're not elitists, they're just people who have worked on that topic all their lives. How could you possibly know better than them without doing any work at all? One person can be crazy. The entire scientific community is not. This (distinctly American) hatred of expertise never ceases to baffle me...

    April 12, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DANTHEMAAN

    750 degrees is pretty toasty to not boil, That's some serious pressure,

    April 12, 2010 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JC

    Biologists think that life may have originated at deep sea vents like this one (over 2 billion years ago) because many of the chemical building blocks of life are available there, there is abundant energy, and the deep undersea locations were protected from the asteroid impacts that took place up on land. Science will figure out how life emerged on this planet, just like it figured out that earthquakes were not due to angry gods. Discoveries like this one are one more piece of the puzzle of the history of our planet. Awesome!

    April 12, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lady Dee Bamba

    I can only imagine how beautiful and magestic this under sea exploration would yield into. I wish I can be a part of this kind ofexploration before I die 🙂

    April 12, 2010 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kristina Erin Ksye

    The Comments left by DREW are SOOOOO true! I feel exactly as he does and wish I had said it long ago. Brave Drew!!!

    Kristina Erin Kaye

    April 12, 2010 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. TJCcanada

    To be honest, maybe it's a good thing that we haven't explored the depths of our oceans; what do we do when we find something new on our planet? We're all over it within months and the natural order of things becomes a living nightmare for the area.

    April 13, 2010 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  14. Memorie

    A headline on volcanism... gets everyone in a tissy to cast their beliefs on global warming. Hydrothermal vents have been allowing the earth let off steam for millions of years so why is it so obsurd to think that they could possibly be causing the earths climate to change? Variables are not called variables because they remain constant. Maybe we are entering a active volcanic period and the vents have more steam (co2/water vapor) to emit into our atmosphere. Maybe there is a link between our magnetosphere deminishing at an alarming rate and geologic activity. Or maybe everything is related to the local interstellar cloud that is pushing the edge of our solar system. From what I understand the magnetic field of the interstellar cloud is extremly vast and compressing our suns heliosphere. All of that energy transference just screams heat!

    April 13, 2010 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. Duck Dodgers

    Wow.

    First, for those who are following the magic creation theory. Stop reading the Old Testament, it's not yours and you're hurting yourself. Believing in a scientific basis for the creation of life does not in any way negate any religious theory. If God created life, then he created match and science too. They're not mutually exclusive.

    Second, I think discoveries like these have potentially stunning ramifications and give practical possibility to life on other planets like Europa or Ganymede.

    I'm feeling a bit pro nuclear. Who's for thinning the herd?

    April 13, 2010 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
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