Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Explore the Cayman Trough

Explore an interactive map of one of the world's deepest seafloor spreading centres, home to two recently discovered hydrothermal vent fields.
Underwater ocean blue background photo
© University of Southampton

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 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. Approximately how far apart are the Beebe and Von Damm vent fields from each other?
  3. What is the difference in depth between these two vent fields?
  4. 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.

© University of Southampton
This article is from the free online

Exploring Our Ocean

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education