UK scientists exploring the ocean floor in the Caribbean have discovered an "astounding" set of hydrothermal vents, the deepest anywhere in the world. Deploying a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) in the Cayman Trough, they stumbled across a previously-unknown site nearly 5000m below the surface.
Video pictures relayed live back to the research ship mounting the operation show spindly chimneys up to 10m high. They are belching out dark water - "a stunning sight", one scientist said.
In the immense pressure of the sea three miles down, the ROV, known as ISIS, was gently steered around the vents, taking pictures and gathering samples. One of the people "piloting" the ROV said seabed smokestacks remind him of "the industrial Midlands".
Hydrothermal vents are among the strangest features of the deep ocean and their existence was not known until the 1970s. Since then they have been discovered at about 200 sites around the world including the Southern Ocean and the Atlantic.
But it was only three years ago that vents were first detected in the Cayman Trough, a deep trench formed by the boundary between two tectonic plates. One set of vents, known as Beebe, was established as the deepest on record - until the discovery last night of another slightly deeper set nearby, at 4,968m. or about three miles.