Video: World's Deepest Hydrothermal Vents

Credit: University of Southampton/NOC

The latest hydrothermal vents to be revealed are the deepest known, possibly the hottest, and swarming with species that are new to science. With a depth of about 4960 meters, the vents—discovered south of the Cayman Islands in March and April of 2010—are almost 900 meters deeper than the previous record-holders. At that depth, the mineral-rich fluids spewing from the seafloor are an estimated 485°C, researchers report online today in Nature Communications. The most unusual new species inhabiting the vents is a 4-centimeter-long shrimp that has no eyes but instead sports a light-sensing organ on its back (seen above swarming over the vents' sulfide spires in concentrations of more than 2000 individuals per square meter.) The shrimp, found both at these vents and at vents atop an undersea mountain about 20 kilometers away (seen after 00:43 in video), are closely related to shrimp inhabiting hydrothermal vents found along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, more than 4000 kilometers away. The presence of high-temperature vents on the seamount, which lies more than 13 kilometers from the undersea ridge at which sea-floor spreading fuels the vent systems, suggests that hydrothermal vents may be much more common than previously presumed.

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