Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre
Map showing bathymetry of the Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre, from shipboard multibeam sonar data

Explore the Cayman Trough

Seafloor spreading centres are places where new ocean crust forms from the Earth’s interior as two tectonic plates move apart. The Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre in the Caribbean Sea is one of the world’s deepest seafloor spreading centres.

This spreading centre hosts two recently discovered hydrothermal vent fields: the Beebe and Von Damm vent fields. Hydrothermal vents are hot springs on the seafloor, where seawater that has circulated into newly-formed oceanic crust emerges from it as hot, mineral-rich fluids.

Scientists first encountered such deep-sea vents in the eastern Pacific in the late 1970s, but hydrothermal vents were only first detected on the Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre in 2009, when researchers found mineral-rich water in the ocean that must have come from vents somewhere below. Then in 2010, further exploration revealed the Beebe and Von Damm vent fields on the seafloor, and the colonies of several new species of deep-sea creatures that thrive around them.

Explore the interactive map of the Mid-Cayman Spreading Centre. You may find it helpful to open the link in a new browser window. How you do this will depend on the kind of device and web browser that you are using. If you are able to right click, this will often give you the option to ‘open in a new window’ or ‘open in a new tab’. Control + click may give you the same options.

Consider the following questions:

  1. Where are the deepest and shallowest points on the map, and approximately what depth are they?
  2. Where is the steepest slope on the map? How do you know this? [Advanced]
  3. Approximately how far apart are the Beebe and Von Damm vent fields from each other?
  4. What is the difference in depth between these two vent fields?
  5. Which vent field do you think it would take longer to get to and why?

Please do not post your answers in the comments section; the quiz in the next step is where you can place your answers to these questions.

To answer the questions, you will need to pay close attention to the scale and colour key of the diagram.

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This article is from the free online course:

Exploring Our Oceans

University of Southampton