latest news Unmanned explorer stumbles over California sea mountain
“It is generally said that we know more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean,” said Aurora Elmore of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A recent discovery provided proof of the truth of this maxim: a mountain higher than Sandstone Peak, the highest peak of the Santa Monica Mountains, was discovered in the ocean, not far from northern California.
The 3,300-foot-tall seamount, or seamount, was discovered about 200 miles off the coast during an expedition by an unmanned marine mapping vehicle.
Starting last summer, the Saildrone Surveyor – billed as the “world’s largest unmanned ocean mapping vehicle” – spent several months exploring the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and the ocean off California in the part of an expedition funded by NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The vehicle mapped over 13,000 square nautical miles during its expedition.
“When [the seamount] was found, people got really excited that there was a big feature that nobody was previously aware of and hadn’t yet been mapped in detail,” said Elmore, director of the cooperative institute at NOAA, in an interview with The Times.
The find was notable for several reasons, Elmore explained – the seamount was found in an area where features are rare and it has an unusual shape.
“There are other seamounts along the California coast,” she said, “none in this exact area, but some north and south.”
Additionally, seamounts are generally shaped like mountains on land, with sloping sides leading to a peak. But the one discovered by Saildrone looks more like a mound like those found in the deserts of the Southwest.
Its sides are steep and vertical, and on its top is a 100-foot-deep caldera.
Elmore said researchers don’t know why or how the seamount acquired its cylindrical shape, but said it was most likely a volcanic formation.
“We would need to do more testing and go back and collect geological samples and sediment samples to better understand the environment the seamount is in and how it might have formed. “, she said.
Mapping the seabed for features such as seamounts and canyons is important not just for detecting geohazards, but also for ecological reasons, Elmore said.
“There are species, especially fish that prefer to live in a certain depth of water, and they jump from island to island from one seamount to another,” she said. “Without the unique ecosystems of the seamount, they wouldn’t have enough food to eat; they might not be at their preferred depth range.
Deep-sea fishing could use this information to find new fishing grounds, she said.
The recent discovery “is just a very good example of how much we still don’t know about the ocean floor,” she said, noting that about 50% of the ocean floor in US territorial waters remains uncharted.
“We don’t even have a general understanding of a lot of what’s going on there,” Elmore said. “So I think it’s kind of a reminder for all of us in ocean science of how much there is still to explore and discover in the deep sea.”