KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Researchers steering a remote-controlled submarine around the world’s deepest known hydrothermal vents have collected numerous samples from sunless depths of the Caribbean Sea where blazing hot, mineral-rich fluid gushes from volcanic chimneys that look like gnarled tree stumps.
Jon Copley, chief scientist for the expedition of Britain’s National Oceanography Center, said Wednesday he believes that laboratory analysis in the coming months will reveal some new life forms that have evolved in the pitch-black vent areas of the Cayman Trough, more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) below the sea’s surface between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
“From body form alone, I am confident that we have found several new species on this expedition: probably a new species of sea anemone, a few species of bristle worms, and some small crustaceans,” Copley said in an email from the RRS James Cook research ship.
The researchers discovered the deepest known hydrothermal vent field and new organisms in the Caribbean trench nearly three years ago. At a depth of 4,960 meters (16,273 feet), the Beebe Vent Field spews out inky, copper-enriched fluids from hot regions below the sea floor into the frigid depths of the sea.
The undersea vents are among the hottest found anywhere on the planet. The highest sustained temperature that researchers measured was just over 400 Celsius (752 Fahrenheit), said Copley, a marine biologist who works at Britain’s University of Southampton.
Besides discovering new life, scientists say the study of the vents could yield a variety of new insights into the geological processes that form and drive them, the physics of so-called “supercritical fluids” — liquids so hot they act like gasses — and the chemical makeup of the ocean’s depths.
Copley said studies of the marine life found in the area should also tell scientists more about how animals disperse and evolve in the dark ocean depths, which cover most of our planet.
Another scientist aboard the ship, Andrew David Thaler, a post-doctoral researcher at the Duke University marine laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina, said there were abundant populations of some species around the vents, particularly an eyeless shrimp dubbed Rimicaris hybisae that was discovered by the research team in 2010.
“They’re so thick that you often can’t even see the rock beneath because they’re buried in blankets of shrimp,” Thaler said in an email from the James Cook.
Such large amounts of anemones were found at the Beebe site that Thayer said they “look almost like meadows.”
Among other things, researchers recorded images of a slender mineral chimney almost 10 meters (33 feet) tall. At another site, a mound of minerals formed by the superheated fluid rushing from the vents rises some 30-meters (98 feet) from the seafloor. They saw brilliant oranges and red colors on the seabed from the bounty of iron, and also blues and greens from copper.
The ultra-hot fluid shooting from the vents into the icy cold of the deep ocean creates a smoke-like effect and leaves behind pinnacle-shaped structures of metal ore. The pressure — 500 times stronger than the earth’s atmosphere — keeps the water from boiling.
At the base of this ecosystem are chemical-eating bacteria that draw on the hydrogen sulphide and methane erupting from the vents to make food.
Unlike other living things, the organisms that inhabit the dark vent areas do not depend on photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy. Instead, chemosynthetic bacteria is the base of the food chain.
To see what scavengers might show up, a big slab of pork was dropped into depths some distance away from the vents. Cusk eels about 1.5 meters long and scavenging crustaceans called amphipods made short work of the meat offering, according to the expedition scientists.
“The fact that it has been so quickly eaten means that, despite being very nutrient-limited, the deep sea can still support animals capable of exploiting the random occurrence of large carcasses sinking to the sea floor,” Thayer said.
The researchers’ blog: http://intothecaymanabyss.blogspot.com/
David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter/com/dmcfadd
More Related Stories
- Illinois' fracking and coal rush is a national crisis
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- DHS admits "impossible" to control 3D-printed guns
- Journalists file suit against Manning trial secrecy
- Russia: Syrian regime ready to talk peace
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Ted Cruz against the world
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- 2 men arrested for endangering commercial aircraft
- Oversized load blamed for bridge collapse
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Iran hackers aiming at U.S. energy firms
- Lawyers release data in attempt to discredit Trayvon Martin
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Bridge collapse: Part of "aging infrastructure"
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- Amanda Bynes arrested after hurling bong from window
- Interstate 5 bridge collapses north of Seattle
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11