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. Doug Cain

    Nice discovery. I am sure there are thousands of objects and fish in the sea yet not known. As far as finding the origin of life I think not. God “Jesus” did that. But I see nothing wrong in finding out how things in nature work.

    April 13, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. rick

    Wonder how long it will be before someone makes a fictitious movie from this? Would be good for the imagination.Look people, this is just part of GODS works,that's all,don't kill your brains tryinig to make something else out of it.

    April 13, 2010 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. R.Gensemer

    This is an amazing find! I could only imagine how exciting it would be to be one of the first to see something like this!

    @J.F., Bart, Porter, and all the other unbelievably ignorant people commenting on religion;
    LOL The Bible and God have nothing to do with this article. This is a scientific article, not a religious one. I agree with Lulu c:..

    April 13, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. lady1

    Stop messing with mother nature and then say the oceans are depleted. You guys are causing all this havoc on Earth in the name of science. STOP!!

    April 13, 2010 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. tromboneplaya p.3

    i think all of the comments were rather amusing but i would hope that no more air heads post anything about anouther life form. IT CANNOT be formed and cause global warming because the temp. wounden't rise every year in temp. ALSO dave i would hpe u were wearing a helmet. if u plugged the holes up we would all DIE!!!!

    April 13, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  6. Memorie

    A Geek... I don't believe the temperature of the vent is causing global warming. However the greenhouse gas emissions produced as a by product of the plumes could be a very real contributor to climate change. There are hundreds of active volcanoes under the oceans and many are erupting.

    April 13, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. gus

    its supper cool

    April 13, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |

    Nice discovery.

    I am sure there are thousands of objects and fish in the sea yet not known.

    April 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. EZ

    The thing opened up when a UFO from mars splash landed to open up the vent. Apples!!

    April 13, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. S17S

    Oceans: The Next frontier. The Ocean always seemed more like space than it did Earth,anti gravity,crushing pressure,strange creatures, unknown areas, answers,yet more questions...

    April 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Dennis F

    I will provide a little more information regarding carbon emissions. The current level of volcanic activity on this planet places an average of 125 Million Metric tons of Carbon into the atmosphere and oceans every year. This includes all of the undersea volcanic vents.

    Human activity is currently placing 64 times that amount (8 Billion Metric tons) into the atmosphere every year.

    Whenever someone tells you that human activity produces an insignificant amount of CO2 compared to "Natural” sources, they are either ignorant…or a liar.

    April 13, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rawr

    would you consider this an environmental article or not? i need to know for school
    <3 😀 :*

    April 13, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ryan g

    i am amazed at all these stupied commets. ex: democrats and al gore are covering up the truth about this and this is causeing global warming~ WHAT? these things have been around for millions of years! how are these things causeing global warming? ex: these are vents from hell and need to be pluged up. if we dont demons will come out and destroy us allllllllllllllllll!~ WTF? what will happen if we plug them? i'll tell you. the pressure will build up and cause a massive earthquake that will kill millions. .

    these are just a few examples of the many

    (small parts of some)

    April 13, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. thrash

    since being directly involved in volcanic science, i know for a fact that all volcanic activity locations are not knowen as per this vent and thousend of other such vents underwater and above water. I also know that all the volcanic activity that we do know of is not measured and that that is measured is done so through very small amounts of sampling..then modled to come up with approximations...and due to the huge flaxuations in the sampling that is taken it is near impossible to calculate any sort of factual results...much the same as calculating human emissions.
    So 125 mil metric tons of natrual carbon p/yr....??? mearly an asumption bases on flawed modeling at best, made up in most cases by people who have never been to a volcanic site and measued anything...

    Ignorance and lies are for people who dont deal in facts...and down here at the lab, we dont make stuff up or make asumptions, we deal with monitoring, samples, and scientific testing.
    So offen over the last 20yrs has our modeling been proven so wrong...its concidered completly unreliable in generating factual info.

    April 13, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kikikinzzzz

    These vents have been around for a long time, maybe even before us. So these vents arent causing global warming we are....

    April 13, 2010 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
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