The world's oceans are dotted with tens of thousands of seamountsundersea mountains
that lie thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. Ocean currents swirl around
seamounts, trapping microscopic algae and animals that provide food for birds, marine
mammals, and commercially important fish near the sea surface. Deeper currents carry
sinking food particles that nourish ancient forests of sponges and corals on the peaks and sides
of these mountains.
Seamounts are home to an array of strange creatures like the ones in the video
at the right. On this mission you'll have a chance to explore and map seamounts using
self-guided underwater robots.
More than 30,000 seamounts lie hidden beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean but only a handful have ever been explored.
Most seamounts are volcanoes that erupted out of the seafloor. Some ran out of lava before rising to the sea surface. Others churned out enough lava to reach the sea surface, then sank slowly into the depths after their lava supply ran out and they cooled.
Deep-water corals on Davidson Seamount, off the Big Sur coast, may grow to ten feet tall and live for several hundred years.
Autonomous underwater vehicles or AUVs, are undersea robots that are programmed at the
seaís surface and then released to follow a predetermined path through the water,
collecting data as they go. AUVs can go places people canít, and they can do things,
like measuring the temperature and chemistry of Monterey Bay waters, that used to
require expensive research expeditions.
MBARI has built several torpedo-like AUVs for different purposes. Our mapping AUV uses
sonar to bounce sound waves off the seafloor. By timing how long it takes these sound
waves to return to the AUV, scientists can measure ocean depths to within a few feet,
"see" rock outcrops and sediments on the ocean bottom, and even map layers of sediment
underneath the seafloor.
VIEW ANOTHER MISSION
Lonny Lundsten is a video lab research technician at MBARI. He identifies the
deep-sea creatures captured on video by MBARIís remotely operated vehicles, and
enters this information into a massive database. Here he talks about what itís
like to be in the control room on a mission to study seamounts.