Explore Deep Ocean Thermal Vents With This 3-D Virtual Reality Video

Look, while many of us would love to explore the deep recesses of the ocean's floor, discovering secrets and encountering weird creatures, it's just not going to happen. The undertaking is dangerous and extremely expensive, and just not the sort of thing anybody with a passing interest could reasonably do — until now.

Thanks to the Schmidt Ocean Institute and its robot explorer Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Science (ROPOS to its close and personal), anyone with a screen can take a look around thermal vents on the ocean floor near Samoa. And even better, a virtual reality headset will offer an even more immersive experience.

In March, ROPOS deployed from the research vessel Falkor and spent more than 150 hours around an undersea volcano near the Pacific island, capturing hours upon hours of footage and creating a three-dimensional map of a black smoker vent, a type of hydrothermal vent deep below the ocean's surface.

The vents form when seawater meets magma under the seafloor, superheats and becomes infused with minerals, which then grow into deposits around the vents. Understanding the process will help scientists decode the Earth's geology, and may also have commercial implications as companies eager to mine for rare metals and minerals increasingly turn to the sea.

Check out the exploration's YouTube VR video above — make sure the resolution's set to 4K, and you can manipulate the camera with your computer's mouse or the swipe of a touchscreen, if you're not using a VR headset. You'll have access to the same views scientists will use to study the smoking chimneys. Look for white patches of chemosynthetic bacteria, the basis of the region's food chain and a source of nutrients to other microscopic creatures. You may even spot a few vent snails. One of which is from the genus Alvinoconcha and has what looks like furry, hairy spikes covering its shell, while the other snail, an Ifremeria nautilei, has a tall orange shell that gets its color thanks to iron oxide — rust — coming from the vents.