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Friday, January 20, 2012

Deep-sea vent discoveries

An international team of scientist explorers, led by Douglas Connelly of the National Oceanography Centre, Southhampton, UK and Jonathan Copley of the University of Southhampton, have discovered two new deep-sea hydrothermal vent fields.  The first is the deepest and hottest to date, and the second is in a place no one thought to look before.

Both hydrothermal vents are located on the Caribbean Sea floor.  The first, dubbed the Beebe Vent Field (after Charles William Beebe, the first scientist to descend to the deep sea), is almost five kilometers down in the Cayman Trough.  The plume of smoke that rises from its chimneys goes up over a thousand meters, suggesting that water is exiting the vent at close to 500°C.

Next to the Cayman Trough is an undersea mount called Mount Dent.  If transported to land, Mount Dent would rise almost three thousand meters.  As it is, the summit of Mount Dent is still a few thousand feet below sea level.  A second set of hydrothermal vents (named the Von Damm Vent Field after Karen Von Damm, a renowned marine geochemist) has been found on the upper slopes of this mountain, a location thought to preclude that possibility.

Prior expeditions to deep-sea vents have yielded creatures unknown to science, and this enterprise was no exception.  The team discovered a new species of shrimp with no eyes but with a light-sensing organ on its back.

The scientists present the following videos of their discovery.  Note:  HyBIS is the name of the deep-sea submarine, and also the name given to the new shrimp, Rimicaris hybisae.