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. Robert N Pruden

    Glynn...what if scientists are simply sorting out HOW god made things? Ever think of it that way?

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

    Is there life on other planets? Before you dismiss the thought just look at the bottom of our oceans. Even in an inhospitable environment, Life will find a way.

    April 12, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. charlie3

    There's certainly life around these new deeper vents and may be because of greater pressure there will be new adaptions, new creatures not around the other vents so may be we'lll be seeing some great new eye candy from the deep ocean instead of deep space.

    April 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. XO

    Very well put Mark and Glynn! You're right, every time I read a science article someone has to mention attach some sort of mystery of life clause to it. The very 1st poster talks about how amazing it is that we just stumbling upon these things after hundreds of thousands of years of occupancy. Not so amazing if he knew we have not been around for so long. Otherwise, yes, it would be amazing that we are still discovering new creatures and planets.

    April 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jake

    It is really sad a simple scientific discovery turns into a debate on religion

    April 12, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Erin

    I find it humorous all the posts claiming its stupid to be scientifically studying how life began, yet believe we were all created 6,000 years ago from some unknown entity and it must be true because a book says it's true.

    I'm not saying I believe we were created from a heated vent, but its incredibly naive to criticize scientific analysis and then believe everything in the Bible with absolutely no proof.

    April 12, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. thrash

    Gezzz this is a laugh...these vents have been there for millions of years...these vents dont cause globle warming...how thw hell would we KNOW!, we have only just found this set of vents. Im sick to death of science being butchered by theory..and theory based modeling. There was a time when science sort the truth through fact finding but those days are long gone.
    The same people who denounce religion for being a human theory are now quite happy to change the world with there own flimsey based scientific theorys. The only thing that humans have left that cannot be bastardised by thought is mathmatics, maths never lies...what a sad day for the truth of science...and im am a scientist 🙁

    April 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Guest

    Your microwave has more of an effect on global warming than this underwater volcanic vent ever will. Ignorance like this is the reason for many of the problems the world faces today.

    April 12, 2010 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Haider

    This really is amazing.I would love to see and know more and more.Please keep exploring.

    April 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. matt b

    How can this discoveryu help us understand the frozen moons in our system they seem to differnt.

    April 12, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. XO

    thrash, well put. There is a a lot of pressure when a certain few go out in public and challenge the ‘BIG LIE’. When reading articles/journals, I put on the filters in order to focus on the 'good science'. I do not have a PhD to hold up like those who have been brought through the PhD mill. It's very easy to be institutionalized in academia. While there is a certain level of enablement that comes along with it, there is a certain blindness that comes with it too, where people become tracked.

    April 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. james

    II didn't say it could be leading to "Global warming" I said ocean warming. The article suggests "scalding water" coming from these vents. It may be possible that
    enough under-sea vents over what some said "millions of years" could be helping to
    warm our oceans. Interesting to me that part of the planet happens to be a magnet
    for tropical cyclones. Just a thought here. Yes, man is harming the planet by our
    dependence on oil. We're smart enough to quit polluting our air,water,food ect.
    but we won't because the systems in place are controlled by the few,not the majority. If the ice are caps are melting so rapidly then why isn't the ocean cooler?
    When I put "scalding water" in regular water, Guess what? It warms it

    April 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joel

    I just wonder the relationship between these new discovery and recent earhquakes we had

    April 12, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jay

    These vents are naturally occuring phenonmenon due to techtonic movement and are situated where the plates meet and subduct causing massive heat to escape from below. GLobal warming and Jesus got nothing to do with it...

    April 12, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Daleri

    What clues on the origin of life do you ever expect to find looking at hot water vents??? You can be sure that no objects ever ordered any one of the billions of digits of directives that are actually found in life forms. We need to get rid of the unfounded belief that millions of life forms ordered themselves. That is not factual and it is not scientific.

    April 12, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
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