British expedition team finds world's deepest undersea volcanoes

British researchers discovered the world's deepest undersea volcanic vents, 3 miles underneath the Cayman Trough in the Caribbean. Watch the silent video footage of the black smokers.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

A British expedition team discovered the world's deepest undersea volcanic vents — which are a half a mile deeper than any other vents previously documented. Known as black smokers, the undersea volcanoes spew iron sulfide compounds out of the seafloor. And the water that gushes out is so hot, it can actually melt lead.

One University of Southampton researcher described the sight as special as "wandering across the surface of another world." Don't be jealous, you can also see the volcano in action (in the video below). Only robotic eyes have actually seen the volcanoes for real.

The scientists aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook remotely controlled deep-diving vehicles and sent them into the lost world. A robotic submarine called Autosub6000, was deployed to survey the seafloor in the Cayman Trough. And the underwater vehicle, HyBIS, was sent to film the journey.

The researchers wrote on their blog:

On Tuesday night, we succeeded in finding the deepest hydrothermal vent known so far, at 4960 metres deep.

After five hours surveying the seafloor in an area highlighted by an earlier Autosub6000 mission, HyBIS came across rust-coloured blocks of sulphide on the seafloor, which told us that the vents were nearby. After a little further exploration, a tremendous roar went up in the main lab as a beautiful cluster of black smokers came into camera view. 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.

While the scientists admit the black-smoker vents did have creatures lurking nearby, they will remain tight-lipped until their discovery goes through proper peer-review. That said, the scientists want to know more about the chemistry and geology of the volcanoes before they make any assumptions.

According to a statement released by the university:

"Studying the species that thrive in such unlikely havens gives us insights into patterns of marine life around the world, and even the possibility of life on other planets,", says Copley, a marine biologist at the University of Southampton and leader of the research programme.

In addition, the team will investigate the geology of the area and the hot water that gushes from deep-sea vents. “Because deep-sea vents get hotter at greater depths, we expect these vents to be the hottest yet,” says geochemist Connelly, who will be the Principal Scientist aboard the ship.

Image: National Oceanography Centre

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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