To discover the ocean, map the seafloor and get an up-close view, ocean explorers deploy a range of powerful technologies, from ship-based sonar to autonomous underwater and remotely operated vehicles. Some 5, meters below the surface of the Caribbean Sea, between the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, cracks in the seafloor spew scorching fluids into the ocean. At more than degrees C — four times the boiling point of water — these copper-laden fluids rise in a black plume the height of two-and-a-half Empire State Buildings. Thousands of pale shrimp cluster near the fissures, along with sea anemones, snails, and mats of microbes. Fish swim by intermittently, and lonely squat lobsters crawl on nearby rocks. Here, in the deep, in the dark, lies a system of hydrothermal vents further from the surface than any other on Earth: the Beebe Vent Field.
Multibeam sonar waves, reflecting off the sea floor near the French island of Mayotte, reveal the outline of an meter-tall volcano red and a rising gas-rich plume. Rising from the Indian Ocean floor between Africa and Madagascar was a giant edifice meters high and 5 kilometers across. In previous maps, there had been nothing. His team, along with scientists from the French national research agency CNRS and other institutes, had witnessed the birth of a mysterious submarine volcano, the largest such underwater event ever witnessed.
Paper maps are no longer available. Topographic maps of the sea floor. Detailed depth contours provide the size, shape and distribution of underwater features.