London, August 11 : With the help of an autonomously controlled, robot submarine, scientists are all set to explore the world's deepest undersea volcanoes, which lie 6 km down in the Caribbean.
According to a report by BBC News, the submarine, known as Autosub6000, will delve into uncharted waters to hunt for volcanic vents.
Once found, the life, gas and sediment around the vents - the world's hottest - will be sampled and catalogued.
A British team aboard the UK's latest research ship, the James Cook, will carry out the research.
"We are heading out on two expeditions, each close to a month long, to map the full length of the Cayman Trough," said team leader, Dr Jon Copley of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton (NOCS).
Dr Copley explained that the Cayman Trough, which lies between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, is a product of the Caribbean tectonic plate pulling away from the American plate.
"It is the world's deepest volcanic ridge and totally unexplored," the Southampton-based researcher told BBC News.
Along with Autosub6000, the researchers will also rely on Isis, the UK's deepest-diving, remotely operated vehicle to scan the deep.
First overboard will be Autosub6000, an unmanned undersea vehicle that can go down to 6,000m and carry out a dive without being controlled from the surface.
Isis, the second submarine, will sample fluids and sediments from around the lip of the vents to test their geochemistry, and also collect animal specimens.
"We are hoping to find several different types of vents along the ridge," said Dr Copley. "Some of the vents will be very similar in depth to the vents we already know about, and because the conditions will be alike, we might expect very similar animals," he added.
The researchers will look to compare the animals around the Cayman vents with those in the Atlantic and Pacific, in the hope of better understanding the processes that affect how deep-sea creatures "get about".
If the organisms in the Cayman Trough look like those from other deep volcanic trenches, it will suggest that ocean currents must play a role in shaping the patterns of deep-sea life by transporting the animals' larvae around.
However, if the Cayman Trough animals are very different from those existing in other parts of the Earth's oceans then isolation will be considered more important.
"The deep ocean is our planet's largest ecosystem. If we are going to use its resources responsibly then we need understand what determines its patterns of life," said Dr Copley.
The researchers expect that, at depths greater than 3,000m, one in every two animals they come across will be a species new to science.