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Expedition heads for world's deepest undersea volcanoes
Date:3/24/2010

A British scientific expedition is heading into the world's deepest volcanic rift, more than three miles beneath the waves in the Caribbean, to hunt for the deepest "black smoker" vents detected so far on the ocean floor. The team, working aboard the Royal Research Ship James Cook, will use a robot submarine called Autosub6000 and a remotely-controlled deep-sea vehicle called HyBIS to reveal the features and inhabitants of the world's undersea volcanoes for the first time.

The expedition is being run by Drs Doug Connelly, Jon Copley, Bramley Murton, Kate Stansfield and Professor Paul Tyler, all from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK. They will explore the Cayman Trough a rift in the seafloor of the Caribbean that reaches more than three miles deep. In November last year, a US-led survey of the waters of the Cayman Trough detected signs of deep-sea vents on the ocean floor below and now the British expedition is heading out to investigate them.

Deep-sea vents are undersea volcanic springs that erupt mineral-rich water hot enough to melt lead. They were discovered in the Pacific three decades ago, but most are found one to two miles deep, dotted along chains of undersea volcanoes around the world. Scientists are fascinated by these vents because they support lush colonies of deep-sea creatures that thrive in the otherwise sparsely-populated abyss. The vent creatures feed on microbes that are nourished by minerals in the superheated water, creating an ecosystem that is not reliant on sunlight as its energy source.

For this expedition, the RRS James Cook is equipped with Autosub6000, a robot submarine developed by engineers at the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK. Autosub6000 can dive 3.73 miles (6000 m) deep to map the ocean floor in detail, survey the currents and chemistry of deep waters, and take photographs. The team also plan to use a deep-sea vehicle called HyBIS, built by engineerin
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Contact: Kim Marshall Brown
kxm@noc.soton.ac.uk
44-238-059-6170
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (UK)
Source:Eurekalert  

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