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. weerasekera

    Spectacular.Love to see a video.

    April 13, 2010 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. Rock

    and yes solowd science does have an agenda. It's a quiet one but it is an agenda.

    April 13, 2010 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. RAA

    What amazing discovery, Congatulations to the team!!! This means that before we go explore outer planets, we have to explore first our very own!!!
    This is so natural, maybe, we can we generate electricity out of this vent and feed the world with endless power.

    April 13, 2010 at 2:20 am | Report abuse |
  4. blessing

    That's amazing! This could be as a result of the global warming.

    April 13, 2010 at 2:56 am | Report abuse |
    • pockets

      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 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John G

    We are NOT the sole cause of global warming. Global warming has been going on ever since the Earth was created. This is why our Earth used to resemble mars (hot and barren), went into an ice age, and obviously came back out of the ice age. Humans (while they may be responsible for about .5%) have no drastic effect on the climate. Global warming can't and shouldn't be stopped, and we shouldn't fear it either.

    April 13, 2010 at 6:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. AGeek

    Look. If you think these things are contributing to global warming, there's a very simple experiment you can conduct. Fill a bathtub with cold water. Take the temperature. Maintain this temperature for 48 hours – it must not be influenced by the room temperature. Now, add ONE DROP of water @ 200degF at a rate of one drop every 10 minutes. See how much that one drop, every 10 minutes affects the temperature of the tub. Here's a clue. NOT A DAMN BIT.

    Compared to the volume of water in the ocean and the depth at which vents are typically found, the output of a vent is insignificant. Not even a rounding error's worth of volume. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Really, people. It's called common sense, I'd recommend trying it out some time.

    April 13, 2010 at 6:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chip

    I have travelled extensively, and exclusively in the United States. Many people may say that I am not a "world traveller", however, this is a large world. I choose to explore all that the U.S. has before I move on to other countries. I do this with the same sense that the crew of the RSS James Cook explors our oceans... There is so much life to learn about here on Earth that our research doesn't neccessarily have to extend to the far reaches of outer space! My wish is for more corporations, and private philanthropists, to continue to give to the cuases that explore our world. I don't think the answers lie in outer space. There is plenty to explore here!

    April 13, 2010 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
  8. John S.

    How do scientists know these things are millions of years old? No one was there to record it, this is their presupposition. Evolutionists and creationists have the same evidence people, its the presupposition they come in with that makes the difference in how our origin is viewed. Evolutionists also need to understand the difference between historical science and observational science. We can observe these vents now and conduct experimentation with current activity. It is impossible to do that for something that happened in the past.

    April 13, 2010 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. JS

    I wonder if the heat from this vent is partially responsible for the heat needed to increase hurricane speeds...?

    April 13, 2010 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. Poptart

    That's awesome! I hope to be a marine biologist one day and would love to learn about new species if found! 🙂

    April 13, 2010 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  11. Dennis F

    Most of the carbon emissions that occur today are volcanic in nature. They were released by volcanoes over the last several billion years and were then absorbed into the earths crust in one way or another, Now we are dragging those previous volcanic carbon emissions back to the surface ourselves.

    In the year 1800, humans dragged about 8 million metric tons of previously emitted volcanic carbon up from shallow depths. In the year 1863, we dragged about 100 million metric tons from deeper places. In the year 1927, we reached a level of 1 billion metric tons.

    The rate we are dragging those previous volcanic carbon emissions back to the surface has now surpassed over 8 Billion metric tons per year. In the last 50 years, we have probably dragged as much previous volcanic carbon emissions as were originally emitted over an 8,000-year period by the largest volcanic eruption that this planet has experienced (the 4 million year long Siberian eruption that produced the Permian Extinction).

    There can be no doubt that human endeavor is one of the most significant sources of increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere in the history of this planet. It is not surprising because most of us have no more intelligence than a volcano anyway.

    April 13, 2010 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  12. LuLu c:

    Wow, I read many of the comments, and some are very educational why others are just pointless. But then again, everyone has there own opinion... Also, I don't think its necessary for you people to be bringing up the Bible in this, because science and religion is something totally different... well byeee !!

    April 13, 2010 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. LollipopZ

    Dear Dave, if you are considering plugging the vent, then it sounds like you have the millions of dollars that you would need to perform that. Seriously, we are in a troubled economic time here!

    April 13, 2010 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. The Dude

    The global warming theory might be possible, but I don't know about the hurricane speeds. I agree with Poptart! What species do you think would be discovered? I can't wait to find out!

    April 13, 2010 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  15. CM

    that is so cool! I hope their is more articles like this.

    April 13, 2010 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
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