A team led by the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton and the University of Southampton have discovered the world’s deepest hydrothermal vents boiling in the Cayman Trough, an undersea trench south of the Cayman Islands. The expedition uncovered a new species of shrimp and may suggest that deep-sea vents are more widespread around the world than previously thought.
Dr. Jon Copley of the University of Southampton and Dr. Doug Connelly at the National Oceanography Centre used the National Oceanography Centre’s robot submarine, called Autosub6000 and a deep-diving vehicle, HyBIS, to reach the boiling depths of the Cayman Trough nearly 5 Kilometers below the surface. What they found were hydrothermal vents nearly a Kilometer deeper than anywhere else in the world. The vents may be hotter than 450 °C and are shooting a concoction of minerals more than a Kilometre into the ocean above. The team named the vent field the Beebe Vent Field (BVF) after the first scientist to venture into the deep ocean.
The researchers discovered a new species of shrimp which they named Rimicaris hybisae, after the deep-sea vessel they used to collect them. The shrimp are related to shrimp found at other vent sites along the Mid-Atlantic ridge. They are unique as they don’t have eyes, but rather a light-sensing organ on their backs to help them navigate around the vents. Pictured below, you can see a tightly woven bunch of shrimp surrounding a volcanic vent.
Even more surprising was the discovery of black smokers on the nearby Mount Dent. ““Finding black smoker vents on Mount Dent was a complete surprise,” says Connelly. “Hot and acidic vents have never been seen in an area like this before, and usually we don’t even look for vents in places like this.” Discovering these vents in this location could mean that volcanic vents are more prolific than once thought.
Relatively speaking, we haven’t known about hydrothermal vents very long. Since their discovery, more than 500 new species have been revealed and we have barely scratched the surface of the amount of vents waiting to be explored. This research gives us a much better understanding of the dispersal of fauna throughout the vent system and the evolution of the ocean.
For more information about this expedition see the following links: