Unmanned explorer stumbles upon a California sea mountain
“It’s generally mentioned that we all know extra concerning the floor of the moon than we do the underside of the ocean,” mentioned Aurora Elmore of the Nationwide Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A latest discovery supplied proof of the reality of that maxim: A mountain taller than Sandstone Peak, the very best summit within the Santa Monica Mountains, has been discovered within the ocean not far off Northern California.
The three,300-foot-tall sea mountain, or seamount, was discovered about 200 miles off the coast throughout an expedition by an unmanned sea mapping automobile.
Beginning final summer time, the Saildrone Surveyor — billed because the “world’s largest uncrewed ocean mapping automobile” — spent a number of months exploring the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and the ocean off California in an expedition funded by NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Vitality Administration.
The automobile mapped greater than 13,000 sq. nautical miles throughout its expedition.
“When [the seamount] was discovered, individuals received actually excited that there was a giant function that nobody was beforehand conscious of and that had not but been mapped in any sort of element,” mentioned Elmore, cooperative institute supervisor at NOAA, in an interview with The Instances.
The invention was notable for a few causes, Elmore defined — the seamount was present in an space the place the options are unusual, and it has an uncommon form.
“There are different seamounts alongside the coast of California,” she mentioned, “none on this actual area, however some to the north and to the south.”
Moreover, seamounts are generally formed like mountains on land, with sloped sides resulting in a peak. However the one found by Saildrone extra carefully resembles a butte like these discovered within the deserts of the Southwest.
Its sides are sheer and vertical, and on its high is a 100-foot-deep caldera.
Elmore mentioned researchers have no idea why or how the seamount gained its cylindrical form however mentioned it was almost definitely a volcanic formation.
“We would want to do extra assessments and return and accumulate geologic samples and sedimentary samples as a way to higher perceive the surroundings that the seamount is in in addition to the way it may need fashioned,” she mentioned.
The mapping of the seafloor for options equivalent to seamounts and canyons is necessary not just for discovering geological hazards however for ecological causes as nicely, Elmore mentioned.
“There are species, particularly of fish that desire to reside in a sure water depth, they usually island-hop from one seamount to a different,” she mentioned. “With out the seamount’s distinctive ecosystems, they wouldn’t have sufficient meals to eat; they wouldn’t be capable of be at their most popular depth vary.”
Deep-sea fisheries may use the knowledge to search out new fishing grounds, she mentioned.
The latest discovery “is only a actually good instance of all of the issues we don’t but know concerning the backside of the ocean,” she mentioned, noting that roughly 50% of the ocean ground in U.S. territorial waters stays unmapped.
“We don’t actually have a normal understanding of a variety of what’s down there,” Elmore mentioned. “So I believe that is form of a reminder to all of us within the ocean sciences about how a lot stays to be explored and found within the deep sea.”