Researchers Uncover Hidden Mountains Lurking Beneath the Ocean

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Jul 10, 2024

Scientists aboard the vessel Falkor made an astonishing discovery off the coast of South America: four massive underwater mountains.

These “seamounts” range from 5,200 to 8,800 feet tall, revealing just how much of our oceans remain unexplored.

Mapping the Unknown

Using advanced sonar equipment, the team detected these seamounts while investigating gravity anomalies during their journey from Costa Rica to Chile.

A 3D representation of a seamount, color-coded to show varying depths. The peak of the seamount is highlighted in warm colors of red and yellow, indicating shallower regions, while the base is shown in cooler colors of green, blue, and purple

Source: Schmidt Ocean Institute

These anomalies often indicate unseen masses, in this case, entire mountains. Jyotika Virmani of the Schmidt Ocean Institute emphasized the significance of finding four such structures.

Teeming with Life

Seamounts are known for their rich biodiversity.

Photo Of Aquatic Creatures

Source: Francesco Ungaro/Pexels

Last year, for instance, an international team, including Virmani, made a fascinating discovery: a deep-sea octopus nursery near a low-temperature hydrothermal vent by a previously unknown seamount off the coast of Costa Rica.

A Fraction of What Lies Beneath

To date, Virmani’s team has discovered 29 seamounts. This is just a tiny fraction of the estimated 100,000 seamounts that are at least 3,300 feet high.

A lone scuba diver is immersed in the vast blue expanse of the ocean. The diver, equipped with a large tank, fins, and a dive mask, is oriented diagonally in the frame

Source: Bobbi Wu/Unsplash

The ocean remains one of the least explored regions on Earth, with over 80 percent still unmapped.

Global Satellite Observations

A recent study examining global satellite data concluded that nearly 20,000 seamounts remain undiscovered, despite over 24,600 already being mapped.

Data from NASA’s Aquarius instrument reveal seasonal changes in the Amazon River’s plume. (This map shows conditions on 27 February 2013. Red indicates high salinity and blue indicates low salinity.) Depending on the prevailing currents, the river’s freshwater outflow heads east toward Africa or bends north toward the Caribbean. Salinity variations are one of the main drivers of ocean circulation.

Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

This finding demonstrates the vastness of uncharted ocean territory that scientists are eager to explore.

Quotes from Experts

“The tallest is over one-and-a-half miles in height, and we didn’t really know it was there,” said Jyotika Virmani.

An image of the open ocean free of ships and planes

Source: Wikimedia

“It does show how much we don’t know of what’s out there.” Her insights underline the continuing mystery of our oceanic frontiers.


Importance of Seafloor Maps

Kerry Howell, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth, highlighted the need for comprehensive seafloor maps.

A overview image of a shipwreck in the sea

Source: CSIRO

“The fact that we don’t have maps of our seafloor is crazy,” Howell stated. Mapping these regions is crucial for understanding ocean ecosystems and biodiversity.


High-Tech Mapping Techniques

Fortunately, high-tech mapping techniques are helping scientists gain a better view of the seafloor.

Students pictured aboard a research vessel stationed at sea

Source: Freepik

These advancements are crucial for ongoing conservation efforts and for understanding the biodiversity that these hidden giants support.


Biodiversity Hotspots

Seamounts often serve as biodiversity hotspots. Their sloped sides provide habitats for various marine species, making them essential for ecological studies.

School of Fish in Water

Source: Hung Tran/Pexels

Discovering new seamounts opens up opportunities for further research into marine life.


Future Expeditions

The team’s journey from Costa Rica to Chile marks only the beginning of many future expeditions.

A pair of researchers are pictured working at their desk

Source: Freepik

With each new discovery, scientists hope to uncover more about these underwater mountains and the life they support.


International Collaboration

Discovering and studying seamounts often involves international collaboration. Scientists from various countries work together, sharing data and resources, to uncover the mysteries of the deep sea.

Two Person in Long-sleeved Shirt Shakehand

Source: Cytonn Photography/Pexels

These partnerships are key to advancing our understanding of the ocean.


The Road Ahead

While much has been discovered, the journey to fully map and understand our oceans is far from over.

Close-up Photo of Water

Source: Emiliano Arano/Pexels

Researchers remain committed to exploring these hidden giants, shedding light on the unknown and unlocking the secrets of our planet’s last frontier.