Over three miles down in the ocean, where the Caribbean Sea's warm blue waters fade into lightless black, scientists have found something bizarre and wonderful: the deepest active hydrothermal vent system on the planet.
The science crew aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook are currently at sea exploring the Cayman Trough, the deepest ocean ridge on Earth. While diving last week, their state-of-the-art autonomous submarine, Autosub6000, discovered chemical indicators in the water column suggesting something was boiling down on the floor below.
The crew quickly dispatched another human-controlled robot to dive on the scene and look for smokers. After five hours of searching, the incredible vents rolled into view:
As incredible as the find itself are the details: the smokers spew water hot enough to melt lead. The smokers' waters are so packed with minerals that their two-story high chimneys are basically made of iron and copper ore. An and around the vents gardens of strange bacteria flourish.
One researcher, Bramley Murton of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, United Kingdom said of the scene:
Source: RRS James Cook
Image: National Oceanography Centre