Scientists have discovered a stunning volcanic ‘lost world’ off the coast of Tasmania.
Experts on the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), vessel ‘Investigator’ made the find while mapping the seafloor 249 miles east of Tasmania. The project is led by scientists from the Australian National University. CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency.
A chain of ‘seamounts’, or undersea mountains, were spotted in deep water, offering the first glimpse of a spectacular “underwater world.”
Scientists say that the mountains rise up to 9,843 feet from the seafloor, but the highest peaks are still 6,562 feet beneath the waves.
“Our multibeam mapping has revealed in vibrant detail, for the first time, a chain of volcanic seamounts rising up from an abyssal plain about 5000m [16,404 feet] deep,” said Dr. Tara Martin, from the CSIRO mapping team, in a statement. "The seamounts vary in size and shape, with some having sharp peaks while others have wide flat plateaus, dotted with small conical hills that would have been formed by ancient volcanic activity.”
The area is also teeming with marine life. “While we were over the chain of seamounts, the ship was visited by large numbers of humpback and long-finned pilot whales,” said Dr. Eric Woehler from BirdLife Tasmania, who was onboard the research vessel to study seabirds and marine life. “We estimated that at least 28 individual humpback whales visited us on one day, followed by a pod of 60-80 long-finned pilot whales the next. We also saw large numbers of seabirds in the area including four species of albatross and four species of petrel.”
Research suggests that the seamounts may be an important “stopping point” for some migratory animals, particularly whales, which may use the undersea features to help navigation.
“These seamounts may act as an important signpost on an underwater migratory highway for the humpback whales we saw moving from their winter breeding to summer feeding grounds,” said Woehler.
More surveys of the area will be conducted during research voyages scheduled for November and December.
The research is the latest scientific project to shed new light on the ocean’s depths. In 2013, scientists released the results of a separate study that analyzed seafloor sediment off the coast of Peru. The study revealed a vast range of microbes thriving deep beneath the ocean floor.
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