For the first time, we have pictures of life in the deepest hydrothermal vent ever discovered in the oceans of Earth. Hydrothermal vents are like the oases of the deepest ocean — they're areas where the freezing waters are warmed and enriched by geothermal activity like volcanoes. In this image of the newly-discovered vent, that shimmer you see behind the snails and blind shrimp is an effect of the more-than-boiling hot water.
A few weeks ago, a group of scientists on a National Oceanography Centre expedition in the Caribbean stumbled across this vent, the deepest ever found at 5,000 meters below the ocean's surface. Since then, the group has been plumbing the depths of the Beebe Vent Field with remotely-operated submersibles, taking pictures, discovering new species, and finding some unexpected surprises. Here are more images of what they've seen.
The team of scientists on board the UK science ship, the James Cook, were on an expedition to explore a vent field in the Caribbean. But they accidentally stumbled across a previously-unknown vent, 5,000 meters below the surface. These blind shrimp and anemones thrive there, in the deep, warm waters.
Hydrothermal vents are warmed when water passes under the ocean floor, through volcanic areas, and then emerges again as superheated streams of nutrient-rich liquid. Often, these streams are called "black smokers" because of their color, and they form a characteristic "chimney" shape where the hot water emerges.
Here is Alex Webber showing off a chunk of one of Beebe's chimneys that the submersible brought back up to the surface. (Thanks to Andrew David Thaler for tweeting this!)
Here is another picture of a smoker, where you can see a bit of the ROV, or remote-operated vehicle, which is taking all these pictures.
The water shooting out of these chimneys was measured at 401C, which the BBC notes makes the Beebe Vents among the hottest on the planet.
Here the ROV is measuring the temperature of the sediments around the vents.
The color of this purple rock is a mystery that geologists on the James Cook are trying to figure out.
Writes a member of the James Cook geology team:
The colours here are amongst the most amazing sights: oranges and reds from the abundant iron, but also peacock hues of green, blue and purple: sure signs that copper is also in abundance. In places, green ‘stalagmites' cling precariously to the rocky overhangs. Formed from a copper mineral called ‘atacamite', here the copper is literally leaking out of the rock. This is an amazing sight to us as it confirms one of the hypotheses that bought us here: that the hydrothermal minerals at these depths and high temperatures will be rich in copper. Back on the ship, these rocks are indeed like peacocks: their vibrant colours attract everyone's attentions and, for the first time, compete on an even footing with the biology for being the most photogenic.
Here is the team on board the James Cook, operating the ROV in what looks like a science fiction movie.
And of course, you can't go anywhere on Earth without finding garbage. Yes, this bottle was found 5,000 meters below the surface in the Beebe Vent Field. Read more about that at the Guardian.
This coke can was discovered at about 2300 meters.
Want to read more about the incredible adventures of the James Cook and its science crew? You can read much more over at their blog, Into the Cayman Abyss and on the James Cook website. Thanks so much to marine ecologist Andrew David Thaler, who has been Tweeting up a storm from the James Cook.
Images via National Oceanography Centre