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At deepest hydrothermal vent yet found, an 'awe-inspiring' view

Scientists have found a hydrothermal vent community three miles beneath the sea near the Cayman Islands. Other vents have led to the discovery of new and exotic creatures.

Image

A cloud of smoky water billows from the top of a hydrothermal vent more than three miles beneath the surface of the Caribbean. The vent, located in the Cayman Trough, is the deepest ever discovered.

National Oceanography Centre/AP

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Scientists taking part in a global Census of Marine Life have discovered off the Cayman Islands the deepest sea-floor hydrothermal vent community yet known.

Researchers have not yet formally published the results of their expedition. But elsewhere, "black smokers" – towering, two-story-tall vents spewing mineral-rich, superheated water into the inky darkness around them – are oases of life for organisms ranging from bacteria to crabs and giant tube worms.

The sight of these vents three miles beneath the surface, as seen through videos from an unmanned submersible dubbed HyBIS, "was awe-inspiring," according to a statement from Jon Copley, a University of Southampton marine scientist and one of the expedition's leaders.

IN PICTURES: Hydrothermal vents

While new species crop up with regularity from tropical rain forests, those discoveries are often incremental. "Invariably, it's going to be an insect, and chances are it's going to be a beetle," says Paul Tyler, another of the leaders of the expedition, during a phone conversation from his cabin aboard the British research vessel RSS James Cook.

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