Irish research has led to the discovery of a volcanic landscape along the Mid- Atlantic Ridge, a vast underwater mountain range that extends almost the entire length of the ocean.
The discovery team has named it Moytirra, after the great battle between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann in Irish mythology.
The volcanic smoking vents and three-storey “chimneys” will feature in a National Geographic television programme to be broadcast next Sunday.
The underwater world also harbours unique marine life of creatures adapted to darkness and crushing water pressures, as scientists aboard the Irish research vessel Celtic Explorer revealed.
“Discovering a new volcanic landscape 3km below was a thrill,” said expedition leader Andy Wheeler, a geologist at University College Cork whose team used a ROV [remotely operated underwater vehicle], to explore the ocean depths.
“It exists at the bottom of this steep, 650ft fault escarpment.
Appropriately, Moytirra — Maigh Tuireadh in Irish — means Plain of the Pillars.
Dr Wheeler said: “[The ROV] descended down the side of this cliff until we could see plumes of smoke coming up from below and we found the chimneys reaching up.”
National Geographic has produced a five-part series, The Alien Deep, which takes viewers into underwater worlds no human had encountered before.
High-definition pictures and video as well as collected specimens reveal orange shrimp, twisting scale-worms, eel-like fish, and swirling bacteria.
“One shrimp we found, that’s been seen at other sites, has lost its eyes but developed a new type of ‘eye’ on the top of its thorax that senses near-infrared light,” Dr Wheeler told National Geographic.
According to the channel, some of the study sites were so deep that the ROV — limited by its 3,000m tether to the ship — could investigate only chimney tops and cliff sides.
“We really were pushing the machines we had to the edge,” said marine biologist Patrick Collins of NUI Galway. “And that’s a credit to the ROV pilots — they pulled it off.”
The programme will be broadcast this Sunday at 6pm on the National Geographic channel on Sky (channel 526) and also UPC (channel 215).
The programme presenter is explorer Robert Ballard, who found the wreck of the Titanic.
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