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

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By contrast, "in the deep sea, chances are you're going to find something completely new," he says, noting that discoveries in the deep sea during the past century have led scientists to create three new phyla – biological categories for never-before-seen body types.

Other discoveries have pushed the bounds of the exotic: for example, the "yeti crab" discovered in 2005 living at hydrothermal vents 900 miles off Easter Island. National Geographic exclaimed that the feathery limbed crab "is so extraordinary that a new taxonomic family had to be invented for it."

"The deep sea is likely to be the reservoir of highest biodiversity on the planet," says Dr. Tyler

A biological surprise

The newly found black smokers rise from the Cayman Trough. It's an undersea rift valley that runs between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and forms part of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American Plates.

The location falls into a relatively new category of undersea features of Earth's crust – an ultra-slow spreading center – that only a decade ago seemed of little biological interest.

Ultra-slow spreading ridges replenish the crust with new material, as do their more energetic counterparts. But the new crust is generally much cooler than the crust welling up from other, faster-paced spreading centers such as the East Pacific Rise or the mid-Atlantic Ridge.

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