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. CATom

    These "scientists" stumbled upon the testing grounds for the new bush / cheney eatrhquake causer machine. They are trying to cause a global panic to increase the sales of emergency insulated blankets which they both own stock of.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JB

    Hilarious that you people still refute scientific evidence of humans causing global warming...and instead prefer to point to things like these undersea vents that have been there for likely millions of years. Stubborn...

    April 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ED

    First of all – READ THE ARTICLE.

    3.1 miles undersea.

    Second – Do some research.

    Vents like these have likely been present for hundreds of millions of years. The phenomenon known as Global Warming refers explicitly to atmospheric and environmental changes from man-made processes like power generation, heavy industry, agriculture, automobiles, runoff pollution, etc.

    April 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. john

    Global warming from a vent? These vents help keep the earth from having a big volcanic explosion. If there were no vents there would be huge volcanic eruptions. 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. These vents are similar to that. No vents bigger volcano.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Curt

    Not to bash James... but I think it is pretty absurd to try to connect volcanic vents with global warming! To assume that because there are things naturally found in the ocean that are hot, that all of the CO2 and chemicals we pump into the environment ARE NOT the cause of global warming is 100% crazy talk. Its like people saying... "look, its July and its 45 degrees, Global Warming isnt happening because its cold out!" STUPID..... I mean.. seriously.... is that really how some peoples brains operate??

    April 12, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Porter

    These vents should be plugged to prevent Hell on Earth!

    Satan is poisoning our environment with what are clearly infernal smokestacks and is working with Democrats and scientists to blame top-side smokestacks. Hell is growing bigger and stronger and these vents are letting out all the extra steam from the pressure (Wait, we still believe that Hell is inside the core of the Earth, right?).

    If we don't do something soon, Hell spawn are going to start swimming up out of the vents, crawling onto the beaches, growing legs and eventually ordering the endless pasta bowl from Salad Garden right in our midst and we will be powerless to do anything about it.

    Leave it to CNN and the Liberal Media to only report what's happening in the real world, and totally disregard the other side of the story.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. geochem

    These vents do not cause climate change (global warming). 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).

    The relatively small (actually insignificant) volume of water released from these vents as compared to the total volume of water in the ocean, is soon cooled to the "normal" cold deep water temperature of the world's oceans. The "extreme heat habitats are very limited in extent. The energy that warms the water coming out of these vents is sourced ultimately from the earth's core and is not tied to the heat at the earth's surface that is sourced from the sun's energy and trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorhydrocarbons.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ralph

    the crew of the RRS James Cook wrote in their online diary of the exploration found 3.1 miles undersea.

    16,368 feet – 3.1 miles X 5,280 ft per mile.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Scott

    James... Volcanic vents only occur near plate boundaries called ocean spreading centers (there's one in the middle of an ocean near you!) and the vents have been there for a VERY long time- many millions of years. (regardless of whether you think the earth is only 6,000 years old) They don't shut on and off- there's no way they could possibly cause warming in the ocean only from the 1970s on. Also, volcanic vents are very few and far between, and the oceans, as I'm sure you're aware, are quite large. The heat input from these black smokers is a very small drop in an exceedingly large bucket.

    Climate change has nothing to do with Al Gore- our understanding is the work of many thousands of people who study these things for their entire lives. I think it would be more fair for you to assume that they know more about it than you, rather than assuming they know absolutely nothing and are just pushing some sort of opinion they all came together to agree on. (By the way, the fact that human CO2 emissions could increase global temperatures was described as early as 1896. Gore may be old, but he ain't THAT old.)

    desert voice, there are certainly ore deposits there- but mostly things we are used to- iron sulfides, maybe copper, manganese, etc... Nothing valuable enough to try to remove from 3 miles ocean depth. No 'unobtanium', unfortunately. Likewise for energy- it's just too deep and too remote to be economically useful.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  10. claudia

    Could these vents and the resulting hot waters causing the ocean warming what leads to hurricanes? What about causing the glaciers to melt and the El Niño effect? Could the scientists discuss these three points? CNN please investigate!

    April 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jballem

    Phenomenon like this are further proof that we humans are but a small piece of the puzzle. I think that many people (read: environmentalists) place a greater importance on our activities than they warrant. Clearly, there are far greater forces at work continually shaping our world.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Abe

    James – Doubtful these would cause global warming – not unless the Earth's core is suddenly getting hotter... It's they've been around as long as the oceans themselves have been around.
    But, meh – who knows? Maybe Dave is right – maybe we should just nuke them all.
    (Maybe that'll help us find those pesky underwater aliens when they surface to wipe us off the planet.)

    r.y.s – They do tell you the depth "three miles deep" when they describe the water pressure...

    April 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. GJ

    Whatever your opinion is on this matter, that fact is that any new discovery in our ocean system is one to be proud of. Our oceans are large, deep and scary. There may be hundreds or more different species on this planet alone that simply haven't been discovered yet. This could open up the mystery that has been long awaited–can life survive on other planets? Is Earth the only one with life and why? Why not? Scientists that dedicate their lives to researching and discovering new pieces to our earth and universe's puzzle are to be admired. Thank you for your hard work!

    April 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shades of Gray

    We do not own this world; we are merely guests.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gage

    Do you people really think this has ANYTHING to do with global warming? These tubes did not just appear you know. They have been around since the Earth was created, billions and billions of years ago, not the "DIVINE" two thousand years ago. There is no "Divine" picture, sorry. Satan didn't fart and volcanic tubes didn't just start shooting out of the sea no matter what divine fairy tale you've read.

    April 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10